All the Ways Emily Ratajkowski Gets Brutally Real in Her New Book, My Body

In My Body, Emily Ratajkowski shares her truth about fighting to own her image, "Blurred Lines," Britney Spears and the downside of having a career inextricably tied up with her appearance.

By Natalie Finn Nov 09, 2021 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Emily Ratajkowski Accuses Robin Thicke of Groping Her Breasts

Emily Ratajkowski is aware that much of her fame is inextricably tied to her looks.

And in her new book, My Body, on sale Nov. 9, the model-actress-activist who parlayed playing an object of desire in a music video into more multifaceted stardom has shared what it's really like being so rewarded—and, on the flip side, fetishized, bullied and demeaned—for one's outward characteristics in the age of digital celebrity.

"I knew that a lot of people would roll their eyes at the title and think like, Oh, Emily Ratajkowski, wrote a book called My Body. Like whatever," she told Vanity Fair in an October interview. "My name is sort of synonymous with an image of my body and the Instagrams and 'Blurred Lines' and whatever else. And I liked using the real associations that people have in a conceptual way so that it would inform the book once they started it. Thinking about their preconceived ideas about me and using that as a tool in the experience of reading it."

Jessica Simpson's Open Book Memoir

Ratajkowski tells her story in 11 essays tackling everything from the discomfort of having so much attention paid to her looks starting in early childhood to how, as a teen, she processed the very public unraveling of Britney Spears to her simultaneously positive and allegedly degrading experience starring in Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video—also inarguably her breakout moment. And overall, the narrative is anchored by the chapter "Buying Myself Back," which details the complicated motivation behind the revealing selfies she's known for sharing and the battle to control her own image.

As the now 30-year-old mom of son Sly with producer husband Sebastian Bear-McClard told author Lisa Taddeo for Elle about what prompted her to share so much in this book: "I want to get to the bottom of things. It's been the blessing and curse of my life."

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My Body by Emily Ratajkowski

She does not hold back in this autobiographical collection of essays, which is an "investigation of what it means to be a woman and a commodity" according to the model.

Here are the rawest revelations from My Body:

Tight Genes

Emily Ratajkowski's mother, Kathleen, whom she describes as "classically beautiful," turned her daughter's looks into a badge of honor from birth. But only a second-place badge.

"It's funny,'" she remembers her mother saying with a look on her face "that I'm used to seeing right before she says something to me or my father that she knows she maybe shouldn't." The funny anecdote: "'My brother was talking to me recently...[and he said], 'Kathy, Emily was a beautiful baby. But not as beautiful as you were.'"

Asked at a photo shoot if her mother was as pretty as she was, Ratajkowski says, "She's prettier than me." The hair stylist protests the accuracy of that statement, but she insists, "It's true."

She explains that she wasn't raised in any religion, so she adopted what her parents seemed to worship: "I've never prayed much, but I do remember that as a young girl I prayed for beauty."

Reflecting on how supportive her mom and dad were of her early modeling career, driving her to shoots and casting calls, she acknowledges, "Beauty was a way for me to feel special. When I was special I felt my parents' love for me the most." And in hindsight: "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." Ratajkowski connects that desire for affirmation to her own Instagram pics, admitting she would post and then "obsessively" check the likes.

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

Noting how Kathy tended to be dismissive of other women's looks ("I don't get Jennifer Lopez," Ratajkowski quotes her mom), people seemingly judging or comparing or in almost any way commenting on women's beauty—including her own—makes Emily uncomfortable.

Unfortunately memorable, her first serious boyfriend in high school started telling her all about the previous girls he'd slept with and what he liked about their looks during a post-coital conversation in bed with her. "My stomach twisted...and I knew it was a manner of minutes before I'd have to run to the bathroom," she recalls her reaction. 

As a young woman Ratajkowski "hated" receiving compliments about her appearance, from both girlfriends and guys she was involved with. She didn't mind it on set, she explains, noting the difference between being successful at work and getting singled out in her personal life for being pretty. "I don't want that 'You're the most beautiful' kind of love." 

Sick Leave

She dropped out of college to model full-time, and around then she caught a bad stomach flu and lost 10 pounds—which, realizing she was booking more jobs as an even thinner person, particularly in lingerie and swimwear—she decided to keep off.

The Thin Ew Line

Starring in Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video in 2013 catapulted her to a new level of fame. Which, naturally, was a mixed bag as debate ensued (mostly online) as to whether the video was misogynistic, and Ratajkowski became inextricably linked both to her unclothed performance and the controversy.

She defended the video then, saying that she had a good time making it and felt perfectly safe on set "being in the company of many women I trusted and liked."

It wasn't until Ratajkowski learned that Thicke was expecting a baby with his fiancée April Love Geary and went to his Instagram, only to find out she appeared to be blocked, that it clicked into place: She hadn't done anything to offend, but on the set of "Blurred Lines," she writes, "He did something he wasn't supposed to do." She alleges that the singer was "a little drunk" on set and, while she was dancing "as ridiculously as possible," she felt cold hands cupping her bare breasts from behind. Thicke "smiled a goofy grin and stumbled backward, his eyes concealed behind his sunglasses," she writes.

There was an awkward pause and Diane Martel, the director, asked if she was OK, and she recalls nodding, and maybe even smiling to insist she was alright. But in reality she was shocked and didn't really know what to do. She didn't react "like I should have," she recalls, nor did any of the other ladies on set. They just kept shooting.

A rep for Thicke did not return requests for comment when this anecdote from the book made news before its release. Martel backed up Ratajkowski's account of being groped to the Sunday Times in the U.K. But Ratajkowski clarified to Vanity Fair in October that she wasn't coming forward, so to speak. 

"It's been a little strange to have even people who are well-meaning come up to me and say, 'I'm so glad you spoke out about Robin Thicke,'" she said. "And it's like, well, no, I didn't speak out. And that's not at all the message behind this. It wasn't about 'I need to tell my story of sexual assault' because that's just not even how I see it."

She added, "The part that not a lot of people are focusing on is that I really was enjoying myself...Also this other thing happened and that says something about the world we live in. Both things exist at the same time."

Haunting Memories

When she was 14 and starting a new school, a 16-year-old she identifies only as Owen showed her around, gave her rides, got her invited to the cool parties—and sexually assaulted her. She "never felt safe" with him, Ratajkowski writes, but she felt that being out was what she was supposed to do as a high school kid and she didn't have it in her to not go along with his invitations. One night the cops showed up when he was fondling her in his car, which was parked in an empty lot, because she simply hadn't figured out yet that she didn't owe him anything for his so-called guidance.

"I wish [the cops] hadn't said I was on the wrong path," she writes, noting that she wishes they'd at least have offered to take her home.

She recalls one night at someone's house waking up with Owen on top of her and being "too weak and too drunk" to scream or fight him off. So she pretended to enjoy it and, she writes, "I hated myself." She was 15 and she didn't tell anyone for months.

Eventually Owen went to a different school and she writes that about a year later, he texted Ratajkowski and said, among other things, that a girl at his new school had accused him of raping her at a party (the girl was "barely conscious," someone else told her, and the alleged victim and her family were pressing charges).

Ratajkowski was 19 and was at a Midwest airport waiting for her connecting flight to California after being out of town for work when she found out Owen was dead from a heroin overdose.

Toxic Mentality

Ratajkowski admits to being critical of Britney Spears when the pop star went through her very public mental health crisis in 2007 and 2008, a period in which she temporarily lost custody of her sons and ended up in a conservatorship managed by her father and a lawyer (that only now she's on the verge of being released from). Which, Ratajkowski knows now, was because she was a kid and simply didn't understand what was happening.

"We studied the picture [of Spears with a shaved head] and wrinkled our noses," she remembers judging the situation with her high school friend Sadie

"I felt angry," Ratajkowski writes. "Britney was destroying the girl I'd once idolized." Up till then, she'd admired not just the star's talent and style, but also the power she seemed to command. She took Spears and Justin Timberlake's relationship really seriously, wondering when she was 12 if it was "really bad, even unforgiveable" that the couple had had sex. "Had she betrayed her fans, and me, specifically? What would happen to Britney now that she was no longer the same?"

She simply couldn't handle vulnerable Spears, actively disliking the song "Lucky" because she didn't like lyrics that implied the artist didn't have it all under control. "Sad Britney was not what I wanted to see," Ratajkowski writes.

Cleanliness Is Next to Nothingness

Self-care, in the more traditional sense, has never been her forte. Ratajkowski writes that general bodily cleanliness "is not a habit I take pleasure in but a concession to social expectations."

Scheduling doctor appointments can feel more stressful than having an actual ailment, and she avoided going to the dentist as a grown woman until she was 27.

"For a long time, I didn't think my body was worthy of the attention required to take care of it," she writes. "I expected my body to function, but I tended to ignore it, even when it called out to me." At the same time, she acknowledges that her body is "crucial to my survival," that how she looks on the outside sells. She distinguishes between herself and athletes who also rely on their bodies: Namely, they're strong, and her appearance is "an ornament used for decorating."

Ratajkowski writes that she only feels at one with her body during sex. She likes to look in the mirror "so I can see that I'm real."

Body of Work

Being sued by a photographer for $150,000 for sharing a paparazzi photo of herself on Instagram (that doesn't even show her face) served as her wakeup call to the tricky business of what it meant to legally vs. theoretically own one's own image.

Also bizarre to Ratajkowski: A photo of her from her own Instagram that had been commented on by artist Richard Prince (as well as a few other random people), blown up on a huge canvas, included in a Prince exhibit and selling for $80,000. Her boyfriend at the time wanted to buy it, but the gallery owner wanted it for his own collection.

But upon finding out that Prince had another "Instagram portrait" of her, originally from a Sports Illustrated shoot she was paid $150 for, she and the boyfriend bought it together, 50-50. Prince's studio also sent them a small "study" portrait, basically a rough draft in the art world, as a gift (after the bf called, because she'd heard other subjects had been sent studies as a token). When she and the boyfriend split up, she got the large Prince print (while the ex got two other pieces of art), but later, when she realized she didn't have the study and asked him for it, the ex wanted $10,000. She asked the studio for assistance figuring out ownership, but ultimately wired the guy the money, wanting to ward off a potentially unpleasant conflict.

She hung the Prince portrait up in her L.A. home and her guests would ask if one of the Insta comments was in German. Ratajkowski translated it and remembers telling her husband, "It's about how saggy my tits look."

After that, she just told inquiring minds she had no idea what the comment said or what language it was in. (In May, Christie's auctioned off the NFT of a photo of Ratajkowski standing in front of the SI portrait on the wall, called Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution, for $175,000. She told the New York Times, "As somebody who has built a career off of sharing my image, so many times—even though that's my livelihood—it's taken from me and then somebody else profits off of it. To me, this digital marketplace is a way to communicate this specific idea that couldn't exist in a different way."

No Release

In September 2020, Ratajkowski accused photographer Jonathan Leder of sexually assaulting her when she went to his house for a photo shoot in 2012, writing in an essay published by The Cut (and included in My Body) that he put his fingers inside her without consent. Previously, some Polaroids from the shoot ended up fodder for Leder's 2016 book EMILY RATAJKOWSKI, which had a list price of $80. (She also called the book "a violation" at the time.)

She recalls Leder using the "most revealing and vulgar" shots he'd taken. Her lawyer sent cease-and-desists to Leder and a gallery that had announced an exhibition of the Polaroids—which insisted they had a signed release. Her lawyer suggested it was a forgery, but they couldn't prevent the book from going on sale. Or a second or third book.

A spokeswoman for Leder's Imperial Publishing stated last fall that he "completely denies her outrageous libelous allegations of being 'assaulted.' We were all deeply disturbed to read Ms. Ratajkowski's latest false statements to NY Magazine [which publishes The Cut]. It is disheartening to us that NY Magazine would publish such a tawdry and baseless article, yet not surprising." (Ratajkowski writes in the essay that he initially told her article's fact-checker that her account was "too tawdry and childish to respond to.")

Leder had given an interview to Highsnobiety about the 2012 shoot in response to her criticism of the book, saying, "To say she enjoyed being naked is an understatement...In any case, it was a great shoot...We had a great time, good conversation, and worked late into the night. We had a lot of discussions about music, art, the industry, and the creative process. She was very pleasant to speak with, and very intelligent and well-spoken, and cultured. That, more than anything in my opinion, set her apart from so many other models."

After he was accused of assault, the site added a note saying they were "deeply saddened and disgusted that Highsnobiety played a role in that situation with our interview. Rather than reading this article, please head over to The Cut and read her words instead."

Water Balloons and Punishment

Ratajkowski writes about her habit of bottling up her anger, influenced by the old trope that "no one likes an angry woman." So when she told her therapist, who asked how she released her anger, that she simply didn't, she was invited to come in for a session of breaking stuff.

However, she doesn't get much out of throwing water balloons. The therapist hands her a jar, and it just bounces off the wall. "Pathetic, I repeat in my head," she writes. Ratajkowski knows that being angry "means relinquishing that control...but I am desperate for control. I would rather hurt myself—metaphorically stab myself—than let anyone else hold the knife."

The therapist suggests envisioning someone she wants to punish, and she hates that there are people she does want to punish. But "I block out thoughts of how stupid I feel, how silly I must appear. Let go. This time the jar flies out of my hands, as if charged with some kind of current. It smacks against the wall and smashes into little pieces."

It Takes Two

Ratajkowski wasn't used to trusting her body, but she knows she has to when it comes time to give birth to her son. "'I know it's scary,'" she remembers saying while alone in the room, hands on her belly. "'But we'll do it together.' I wasn't sure if I was addressing my son or my body. Probably both."

Mid-birth, the top of her son's head is visible but she can hear a voice say that "the baby was too big and I was too small" and the doctor says, "May have to get the vacuum."

But she's determined to push him out on her own, and she does. 

And her book is dedicated "To Sly."