It’s interesting to me that I’m categorizing this book as one that matters – because I have ambivalent feelings about it. I would give it a 3/5 stars, but I still think it’s worthwhile and important for a lot of reasons. Few of these reasons have to do with the quality of the book … it’s more about the deeper cultural critique it invites, and how it affected me.
Emily Ratajkowski is a model and actress, most remembered for appearing topless in Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” video. In this memoir (really more of a collection of essays than a continuous story), she reflects on her feelings about her body, displaying her body for the male gaze, and her frustration with her public image.
All of those things sound important – and they are – but I found her “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” tone really off-putting. Throughout the book, she emphasizes that she is beautiful, that she has a appealing body, and that she is widely desired; while these things may be true, I would have liked to see a deeper reflection on why these attributes give a person value in our culture. To me, she seems to take for granted that this is just the way it is, and that a woman’s path to power is pleasing men.
She writes a lot about power – her lack of it, her desire for it, and how she can increase her own confidence and sense of power through pleasing men. She has no problem with nudity, she says (multiple times), because for her it’s a way of using her body to “take back her power.” She touches on the paradox of this, that attracting the sexual gaze of men may not truly be liberating, but she doesn’t examine this deeply.
Most public figures write memoirs late in their careers, to share the wisdom they’ve gained along the way. Emily is young, and very much a work in progress. She has not yet parsed all the complicated meanings of body vs. mind and spirit, and how being identified primarily as a “body” disconnects her from herself and others (she frequently mentions a sense of detachment when she is being photographed nude). She is frustrated that others don’t seem interested in her intellect, but doesn’t seem to see how she has commodified her own body – the blame for that is laid upon culture, or men. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “blaming the victim” here, I just hesitate to see her entirely as a victim. She has participated in this system in the name of taking back her power, but in the end she feels powerless … I hope she takes a deeper dive into the “why.”
As a person, I didn’t like her (the “her” that comes through in her writer’s voice, anyway). This is not a person I would befriend, as I found her immature and shallow – but I can see the seeds of a deeper understanding of her own life, given time. The book raises more questions than it answers, but those questions are worthwhile ones. So if the book makes you think, you have not wasted your time in reading it.
I wish Emily well. I hope she continues to learn and grow.
(This book is available from Book of the Month as an add-on: https://www.bookofthemonth.com/all-books/my-body-1105)