‘My Body’ by Emily Ratajkowski: Nauseating, Befuddling, Surprising
“Few would have thought that this body, Ratajkowski’s exalted and idolized body, would hold a soul so torn,” writes our contributing books editor, Afshan Shafi in her review of model/actor Emily Ratajkowski’s debut memoir, ‘My Body’.
A disclaimer – ‘My Body’ by Emily Ratajkowski is not an easy read. It nauseates in parts, it befuddles insistently, and, often, induces despair. Admirably, though, it is not a wheedling downpour of self-pity. Ratajkowski inhabits one of the most famous bodies in the world and what she wages in this book is a contest not only against what she is supposed to represent globally, but against what she is supposed to represent to the smaller, more claustrophobic worlds of family and the society of one’s birth.
Ratajkowski inhabits one of the most famous bodies in the world
Beauty is important to Ratajkowski’s mother, not least because she has always been considered a beauty in her hometown. In the chapter “Beauty Lessons” Ratajkowski writes of people exclaiming over her prepubescent, ripening beauty in places as humdrum as grocery stores. Her mother is gratified by the way the world responds to a young Emily. As the latter notes – “My mother seems to hold the way my beauty is affirmed by the world like a mirror, reflecting back to her a measure of her own worth.”
“My mother seems to hold the way my beauty is affirmed by the world like a mirror, reflecting back to her a measure of her own worth” – Emily Ratajkowski
Later, when she is a burgeoning professional model, Ratajkowski’s mother happily posts pictures of her daughter on her Facebook page. Flushed with pride, she tells Emily that, “A friend of mine from college wrote on Facebook that he’d seen your recent magazine cover. He said ‘No surprise Kathleen’s daughter is beautiful! But she’s not as gorgeous as you, Kathy. No one compares to you”.
Years after, Ratajkowski will wrestle with severing self-doubt – relating to her therapist, that “everything is ranked” for “that is how the world works.”
One of the most touching moments of the book is also one that is, perhaps, a bit sinister –
“I do remember that as a young girl I prayed for beauty” – Emily Ratajkowski
For tiny Emily, her mother’s veneration for her daughter’s beauty has become something invasive, something insidious. From this point on in the book, Ratajkowski will begin traversing a landscape putrid with trespassers. Her journey and interactions with pop stars, men of influence and the world of glamour at large will leave her disassociated from the very body that allows her a place in the halls of fame.
Further on in the book she will frequently acknowledge her disillusionment with the glittering confines of celebrity – writing:
A look at Ratajkowski’s most recent Instagram post will find her apple-cheeked, a new mother, all doe-eyes and duck-lipped in the way all contemporary influencers are. It might seem fatuous to assume that she has attained some kind of higher peace, but she certainly glows with something richer than highlighter.
With this book, Ratajkowski has surprised hordes of readers and millions of fans. Few would have thought that this body, Ratajkowski’s exalted and idolized body, would hold a soul so torn. In some ways, all women will identify with ‘My Body’, for at the end of it all, Ratajkowski’s body is a female body and that is why its keeper is so reft, so scared and so unsure of her strength.