Model turned best-selling author Emily Ratajkowski stepped into London to promote her book ‘My Body’. Having skipped on the glitzy Fashion Awards, she instead embarked on a book tour appearing in Waterstones and in Emanuel Centre auditorium for an hour long Q&A with Pandora Sykes.
Wearing ochre mini dress, black boots and wrapped in layers of coats – a long black shiny leather coat underneath white faux shearling layers, it felt like her attire for the night was representative of duality and oftentimes confusion and contradiction surrounding the topics covered in Ratajkowski’s book.
” I didn’t really understand saying ‘No’ or being assertive as I am now.”
‘My Body‘ is billed by her publisher Quercus as ”a profoundly personal exploration of feminism, sexuality and power, of men’s treatment of women and women’s rationalisations for accepting that treatment”. The publisher added: “Her essays chronicle moments from Emily Ratajkowski’s life while investigating the culture’s fetishisation of women and female beauty, its obsession with and contempt for women’s sexuality, the perverse dynamics of the fashion and film industries, and the grey area between consent and abuse.”
Her journey of writing started with series of exploratory of essays. It wasn’t long until Ratajkowski landed her literary agent and the rest is history.
Talking of Emily’s personal history, she was the ‘only child in a house with no walls’. Quite literary – her father built a house where walls wouldn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. She writes in her book that in set up like that “children oscillate between feeling special and feeling alone.” Later during the interview, she admits that she can only speak for herself and not all children.
“I thought, ‘well you know my name because of people have seen my body but now I should stop doing that even though it’s the thing that got me here”
According to Ratajkowski, this feeling special and alone found its continuation in her adult life too. Most importantly, for the author, it was more about boundaries – or lack thereof – control, and seeing beauty as currency. During the duration of the Q&A session, Ratajkowski kept coming back to these topics.
They say never meet your idols in person. It might be one good example when the bravery-for-display and Emily Ratajkowski’s way to seemingly embrace her sexuality had so much hidden underneath – from lack of boundaries while growing up to seemingly real confusion over her values to feeling disassociated while doing what we thought she enjoyed.
The writer admits herself that the book if her way to explore various topics and explore herself, not to give answers.
Emily Ratajkowski’s relationship with sense of control
“Motherhood for me was an excellent exercise of letting go of control”
Growing up in a house she grow up in, Emily admits that she didn’t really understand “saying ‘No’ and being assertive in a way I do now. But going into profession with this particular upbringing and family dynamic, it definitely impacted my twenties and up until very recently.”
The models has shot to fame after starring in Pharell’s video of Blurred Lines. But she never dreamed of being famous model. “I saw modelling as means to an end – just a way to earn money. So I was really surprised when I got access to the other part of modelling – fame.” The passive attitude, according to Ratajkowski “came from lack of control.”
Soon after becoming ‘famously sexy’, the model ventured into acting where she was told to dress up and not to be so sexy to avoid diminishing her value as an actress. It was hard for young girl to navigate this situation at age twenty. “I thought, ‘well you know my name because of people have seen my body but now I should stop doing that even though it’s the thing that got me here”.
Speaking of her social media and her quote in a book that she wants to be that person selling bikinis on Instagram and yet be respected for her politics, Emily admits it doesn’t seem like a contradiction to her because “I’m still exploring what is exploitation and what is control, what does power look like. One of the main topics of this book is what does empowerment look like – is it power, money, influence, is it the way you feel or a type of fulfilment…”
She also admitted to be going to social media to assert control over how her story is told. “I didn’t want to show the face of my son to the public but there were paparazzi photos on the internet. So it felt like asserting control; my way of saying ‘these are the pictures I feel ok being out in the world and not the ones being taken without my consent’.” Sounds like illegal practices that Ratajkowski could have sued the publisher.
Encouragingly, model-turned-writer has found her empowerment in writing the book a process she described as ‘muse becoming the creator’ in her recent podcast interview. “Writing this book is the closest I came to feeling empowered.” And she very much intends to continue. Probably writing a novel next.
It looks like model’s relationship with control has finally closed the loop when she became a mother. “Motherhood for me was an excellent exercise of letting go of control. I realised that trying to control everything about my son is going to stress him out. And I’m so not interested in that. So I had to let go of control in many ways.”
Beauty as currency
In ‘My Body’ Ratajkowski goes to explain that she very much grew up seeing beauty as currency. Starting form Emily’s mother recounting stories of men noticing her, up to the days on Instagram where Emily has amassed thirty million followers. “My mom had grown up in a family where her father was telling her she should never say thank you when someone complimented her for her beauty because she hasn’t done anything to deserve it. So, she had a lot of shame around her beauty. I think having a daughter, she didn’t want me to have that experience.” As a result, Emily’s mother wanted her daughter to celebrate the way she looks. And, at some point, her parents, “understood that is was a very nice way to make an income. And she [her mother] felt like modelling was this incredible opportunity to pay for my college education.”
Yet, Ratajkowski admits that in this essay she didn’t want to say that her mother put too much emphasis on beauty but rather of one moment in memory of being “a young person praying to be beautiful. I realised that being so young – six or seven – there are so many things you can pray for and I felt like being beautiful would give me a good life. Being now a mother herself, se often ponders how parents can pass on ideas to children that they don’t intend to.
Speaking of her profession as a model, she seemed to have been very confused by the fact that while she was known for and celebrated for her body, people would judge her. “Like men can really like the sexuality but then you’re certain type of girl”.
But it hasn’t always been all praised towards her looks in the industry. In her book, she discusses industry obsession with weight. “Looking back I find it hard to believe how rude people were about my body. Now I have this understanding that they were looking at my body as a tool. And they were kind of angry with me for not showing up with the right tool.”
Emily Ratajkowski book ‘My Body’ is available online and in all major book stores.