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Emily Ratajkowski on Her New Book, ‘My Body,’ and the Controversy That Came With It

Emily Ratajkowski on Her New Book, ‘My Body,’ and the Controversy That Came With It

Emily Ratajkowski’s body has sold burgers. It’s sold perfume that smells of the ylang-ylang tree with notes of sandalwood and ambrette seed. It’s sold a range of hair products and at least one “innovative lifestyle beauty brand.” It’s sold a few lines of intimates and untold numbers of swimsuits. It’s sold inexpensive clothes and mid-range clothes and luxury clothes. It’s sold pants when it wasn’t even trying to, when it was just walking down the street. The thing that her body will not be selling, though, is her book. She’ll sell My Body with her name.

The model decided how her essay collection would be packaged. She insisted in her proposal that it should be called My Body and the jacket should only bear text. Her publisher, Metropolitan, went for it, which, though those things are often out of an author’s hands, was probably smart thinking. This is a person who understands how things will look.

“All of these are stories about my body in different ways,” Ratajkowski said of the collection on a Zoom call about a month before its November 9 release. “How it’s perceived, how I’ve used it, how it’s been used, what access it’s granted me, how it’s also made me at times feel like I’m nothing more than a body. 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. 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.”

It’s good business for models to be aware of how they appear, but few have interrogated the political implications of their body for them and for those who consume it in the form of a book. There’s the essay “Transactions,” an exacting ledger of what gets exchanged when a person is paid simply for attending an event. There’s the prescient “Britney/Toxic,” on the type of young female friendship that’s contingent on some boys woven in with what Britney Spears meant to her as she was getting into modeling. (Spears meant power, mainly. “In my mind there were presidents and there was Britney Spears,” she told me.)

Ratajkowski started modeling at 14. She was an only child born to “bohemian” parents, living outside San Diego, when her mother signed the paperwork. She kept doing the job over the years, impelled forward in the industry not necessarily by passion for the work, but by the money that she made and the freedoms it afforded her. Her big break was the 2013 video for Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the inescapable song of the summer that year, one that straddled the line between louche and sleaze. The video made her instantly recognizable, and her opportunities accelerated. She was cast in movies. She got paid to make appearances and peddle bigger and better products. Every time, she was picked to execute someone else’s vision.

So besides how things look, control, creative or otherwise, is something Ratajkowski has devoted her 10,000 hours thinking about. In the last year, she’s turned 30 and entered a new phase of her career and life. In March, she gave birth to a son, Sly, who she had with her husband, Safdie brothers favorite producer Sebastian Bear-McClard. She’s signed onto fewer movies, but launched a swimwear brand, Inamorata, in 2017, vertically integrating her modeling into her own brand, and it’s been humming along ever since, even expanding to clothing. And then there is My Body, which undergirds it all—especially “Buying Myself Back,” an essay about trading her image back and forth, which doesn’t seem like it will ever have a happy ending, or any ending at all, considering that the story we’re about to get into has only continued on in real life outside the book of essays. The story and its real-life afterword are an ouroboros of reflection and ownership, a kind of nonbiodegradable hazardous byproduct of living now as a model in an era when image, or more precisely the ownership of image, is everything. It is part of Ratajkowski’s life. We can but try to keep up.

Last year, Ratajkowski published “Buying Myself Back” in New York magazine, an essay that recounts three moments where she lost control of her photos. She has paid huge sums of money to regain a version of ownership of those images, hence the title of the piece. In one instance, Richard Prince included her in a show at Gagosian gallery in New York, for which he blew up Instagram posts on large canvases, alongside a comment he had left there. A Gagosian employee bought the one Prince did of Ratajkowski, so she got a different portrait of herself, paying for half the over $80,000 price tag. Her boyfriend at the time paid for the other half, and she also received a small study of the work. (Artnet later reported that Ratajkowski and her then boyfriend commissioned the portrait. Asked to clarify, a rep for Ratajkowski told Vanity Fair, “She bought a Prince piece for $80,000, the cost of which she split with her boyfriend.”)

When she and her boyfriend broke up, she bought his half of the painting, plus an extra $10,000 for the study. She hadn’t wanted to pay for the smaller piece since it was a gift, but as she describes in the essay, some of her own photos were part of the enormous celebrity iCloud hack at the time, literalizing the loss of her image to a devastating degree, and providing an unfortunate reminder that her ex had his own photos of her. She lost the will to fight. It was easier to pay. In the same essay, she wrote about a paparazzi suing her for posting to Instagram an image he took of her walking with a bouquet of flowers over her face. This is a copyright no-no. Ratajkowski has been entangled in a lawsuit ever since. This will be important to know later.

In April, after she gave birth to her son, Ratajkowski made an NFT of herself smiling in front of the Prince portrait of her original Instagram post.

“I was just honestly high off of postpartum hormones and spinning out of control. Everybody was talking about NFTs and I had my first glass of wine post-pregnancy and was like, ‘This makes me think about…,’” she said with a goofy lisp, bringing her pointer finger to her temple. It made her think about the essay she wrote, about the conceptual art that she never volunteered for, about ownership, about women, about OnlyFans, about revenge porn and the iCloud hacking and how hard it is to protect an image, especially—especially—if your image is a valuable asset on which you’ve built your livelihood. Her face. Her body.