This book has taken me by surprise. I somehow ended up pre-ordering it without planning to, simply because I was curious about Emily’s writing after having read her article “Buying Myself Back” (Ratajkowski, 2020) on The Cut website. And luckily, I wasn’t disappointed! 239 pages long, comprised of 12 essays, this was quite a short book that I finished in just about a day and a half. The 4 ★ rating felt like the right one after having genuinely liked and connected with 9 out of 12 essays (which is huge since I normally don’t enjoy the format of “essay books” at all) and only having been bothered by a certain recurring theme (therefore the reduction of 1 ★). All in all, I didn’t expect to enjoy the book as much as I did and be so touched by it.
The beginning is made with a beautiful quote by John Berger, which instantly sets the mood for the essays.
You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.
It’s vulnerable, it’s raw, it’s honest. It’s written in a bare, simple and stripped down to the point style without too many embellishments. Nevertheless it still manages to keep you hooked to continue reading with its masterful storytelling. It gives intimate insights into Emily’s life, as if you’re peeking into a backstage area, where you would normally never have access to. You can strongly feel how important of a platform this book is, where Emily can speak out and phrase her thoughts exactly the way she intends to.
In my early twenties, it had never occurred to me that the women who gained their power from beauty were indebted to the men whose desire granted them that power in the first place. Those men were the ones in control, not the women the world fawned over.p. 47
I’d be lying if I said that fame did not come with its gifts: Would anyone care to read what I write had I not impressed men like you?p. 215
She doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable topics and doesn’t stop at taboos. It didn’t feel as if she was portraying herself as a victim or condemning the industry that has made her successful. She was simply speaking out on the way things were/are. The book is her way of finally getting everything out, having her own voice, controlling exactly what she puts out there with her own words, rather than once again being presented in a different light through an interview. I believe that these essays would speak to so many different age groups of girls and women. Whether it’s the 16 year-old who is longing to be reassured or the 30 year-old who is on the path of re-discovering herself, there will be something in it for everyone. I especially see it as an extremely relevant piece of writing for feminist men, in order to try and better understand the complexity of what life as a woman within our society represents. Personally, I felt extremely emotional when reading these stories. When finding parallels in some of the described experiences, I wanted to go back in time and give that young girl a big hug to ease her suffering.
Beauty was a way for me to be special. When I was special, I felt my parents’ love for me the most.p. 17
I tried to use my arms to push against his chest, to force him off and away, but I was too weak and too drunk. […] I wanted it to be over but I didn’t know what to do, so I shut my eyes tightly and made small noises, the noises I thought women were supposed to make during sex.
Why did my fifteen-year-old self not scream at the top of her lungs? Why did I whimper and moan softly instead? Who had taught me not to scream?p. 54
The themes that can be found throughout the essays are: one’s relationship with the body, misogyny, survival in the midst of patriarchal structures, women’s interactions among each other, relationships with parents and many more. What it all comes down to though, is that you get an honest and direct narrative throughout. You understand that Emily wasn’t spared certain experiences just because of her fame or her looks, just like her admitting that even she isn’t immune to seeking validation through likes on Instagram posts.
I post Instagram photos that I think of as statements to my beauty and then obsessively check the likes to see if the internet agrees. I collect this data more than I want to admit, trying to measure my allure as objectively and brutally as possible. I want to calculate my beauty to protect myself, to understand exactly how much power and lovability I have.p. 22
I’m still addicted to the sensation I get watching a post go crazy with comments and likes on Instagram. Casually snapping a picture and uploading it for 28 million people provides a pretty serious high.p. 86
To touch upon the parts that didn’t let me rate the book with the full 5/5 ★, most importantly the topic of “thin culture”, forcing women to make their bodies as small as possible in order to become rich and successful. Too many statements were written out in a way without being reflected upon on a deeper level, which could negatively influence younger readers. Among these are unhealthy relationships with food, restricting one’s eating or over-identifying oneself with being “skinny”. If Emily spoke more deliberately about it, or maybe even dedicated an entire chapter to it, that would make a world’s difference. Besides that, there were a couple of comments that slipped through, where there seemed to be a lack of understanding of different income levels (how for example, someone with minimum wage wouldn’t be spending $30 of their salary on a spa).
Around that time, I caught a terrible stomach flu and lost ten pounds in one week. After I recovered, I kept the weight off, realizing that I was booking more shoots with my thinner body.p. 28
I had recently started smoking cigarettes and skipping meals to maintain a tiny waist […].p. 206
No one wears jewelry inside the spas, and, at just $30 admission, it’s difficult to tell who is rich and who isn’t.p. 99
Within the last phrase of the book, Emily said, “I wrote, hoping to become the best version of myself for you”, in her dedication to her son. This is exactly what this book is about – the thoughts and reflections of a woman in progress, in transition, moving, working on herself, changing and developing herself further. There is no space for perfection. No matter the balance on one’s bank account, one’s physical appearance or one’s mental state – we’re all working on something and that’s what made her story relatable. I really enjoyed reading through Emily’s opinions on so many various topics and I couldn’t wait to finish the book in almost just a single sitting. I’ll be recommending “My Body” further, motivating each and everyone to be unapologetic about the fight for equality, the striving towards improvement and not shying away from expressing one’s own feelings.
Ratajkowski, E., 2020. Buying Myself Back. The Cut. [online] Available at: <https://www.thecut.com/article/emily-ratajkowski-owning-my-image-essay.html> [Accessed 12 November 2021]
Edition: ISBN 978-1-52941-589-6