In September 2020, New York Magazine published an essay written by top model Emily Ratajkowski. In it, the then twenty-nine-year-old described her struggle to regain control over intimate images of herself taken and published without consent, and then widely shared. The essay “Buying Myself Back” is among twelve that make up the memoir My Body, Ratajkowski’s audacious debut as a writer. 


In the book, Ratajkowski explores her own evolving relationship with her body and image, mirrored by the desire or envy of others. As well as essays on her fifteen years’ modelling, there are also those on childhood and adolescent experiences through which Ratajkowski contextualises an industry that persistently treats women, paid to sell products, as brainless mannequins; fit for use and abuse, ridicule and shame by men, but also women.


Ratajkowski was born in London in 1991 and brought up in San Diego. When she began to develop as an adolescent, the attention she got gave her confidence. She began modelling with the support of her parents, both teachers, who agreed that doing something lucrative short term could provide financial security in the future. Ratajkowski dropped out of university and went on to be the cover girl for international magazines such as French Grazia, British GQ and American Vogue.


After appearing naked on the cover of erotic magazine Treats!, Ratajkowski featured in a now notorious music clip for the 2013 track Blurred Lines by American singer Robin Thicke. The video went viral, but outrage followed: the lyrics advocated a predatory approach towards women, who bopped about on the video half-naked among ogling men and even a stuffed dog. “It was silly and fun,” says Ratajkowski. However, she recalls that at one point the singer groped her breast; just one assault among many detailed in her book that, the model admits, she at first tries to rationalise, or deny


The abuses Ratajkowski has suffered, while they often read like an outrageous black comedy, have had serious consequences for her health. Nude photos leaked in 2014 caused her to feel, she says, as if “I’d been destroyed. I lost ten pounds in five days and a chunk of hair fell out a week later.” A humiliating encounter with a photographer led to three non-consensual photobook publications that, as the legal bills piled up, she seemed powerless to stop. Her film career, which appeared hopeful after a role in Gone Girl (2014), has been hindered, she fears, by salacious publicity. 


Ratajkowski wrote My Body with the aim of laying out so-called “unclear situations” as simply as she could to a male as well as a female public. Even though she is just thirty and we apparently live in emancipated times, she claims persistent “frustration with how little men could relate [to] or understand my experiences.”