Emily Ratajkowski's quest for honesty led her to write My Body
Emily Ratajkowski has been looking for agency. After launching her career in 2012, the modeling and acting gigs that followed — roles as Ben Affleck's mistress in Gone Girl and Vinnie Chase's girlfriend in the Entourage movie, features in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues — left her wondering whether empowerment had morphed into objectification. "It never felt like enough to just be a body," she says. Now Ratajkowski, 30, is reclaiming her narrative with My Body, a new book of essays that chronicle her awakening and search for wholeness.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The book explores your changing relationship to your appearance and validation, but also details some moments of trauma. Did you choose to include those as a means of getting closure?
EMILY RATAJKOWSKI: I did not. I didn't even really know what I was going to write about. I had some thoughts and ideas about experiences that I felt a huge amount of shame around, and I was embarrassed by that shame. As I started to say, "Well, why did that happen to me?" writing about it became a cathartic experience.
How did you decide that now was the right time to write a book?
I always wanted to write and it felt really self-aggrandizing and ridiculous to give it a shot, but eventually I realized it was going to bring me joy and I wanted to make something. I sent essays to writers I admired to get a sense of: Am I working towards anything or is this just something I should call a hobby? Some responded and some didn't, but it's how I found my book agent. I insisted on sending him a ton of writing before we even met, because I didn't want an agent to work with me just because of my celebrity.
You're published by Metropolitan, which doesn't often do "celebrity" books…
I think of myself as a pretty political person and they have published Noam Chomsky and Edward Snowden, so that appealed to me. I think there's a danger in every industry where people are just thinking about money. I didn't want to think about that; I wanted the book to be the best it could possibly be. So I chose an editor who made me feel like that was what she cared about too.
Are you seeking to be, or feel, understood by readers of your book? Or is exploring what you wanted to and putting it out in the world enough?
Oh God, I wish I was that enlightened. I'm not. On a good day, I have those thoughts exactly like how you just said. That's how I should feel. It should be enough. But I want to be taken seriously. This is my attempt at becoming a full person. I think I wrote the book because it felt like the medium that would allow for me to have the most agency. When something is in your own words, nothing can beat that. But more than anything, I want to start conversations. There are so many unspoken power dynamics in our culture, and the language for the way we talk about those dynamics is limited and has no nuance. If my book could encourage a change, that would be really exciting.
In 2020 your essay "Buying Myself Back," about reclaiming ownership over your own image, was a sensation. Did that bolster you?
The response was really encouraging and I rode that high for quite a while — it helped me finish the book. Now, on the cusp of publication, I don't know if it's impostor syndrome or if I'm superstitious, but I have this sort of feeling of like, oh no, what if that was the only essay of mine people will like?
You write about your evolving relationship to social media and your desire to untether yourself — where do you stand with Instagram now?
I think everyone can relate to [social media] addiction and the validation that Instagram gives — 10 likes and a million likes aren't that different, it still can mean the same thing to a person. But obviously my relationship is more complicated because it's attached to my livelihood and my public image, and what people think of me — and it's on a larger stage. I now have a timer for Instagram and I try to keep [my use] to an hour [per day]. I have a child now and the idea of sitting around on my phone all the time doesn't feel good with him.
What is your writing process?
It's really strange. I wish I was one of those people who journals. I've always been too critical of myself to be able to do that. So what usually happens is I'll have a thought about something — maybe I'm having a conversation with a friend at dinner — and I can't articulate how I feel or what I want to share about it. And then in the middle of the night I'll wake up and have a voice in my head and I'll start writing notes in my phone. Sometimes it's five sentences and sometimes it's 1,000 words.
How do you see the balance between being really honest and vulnerable in your storytelling, versus needing to have boundaries for your own sake?
Let me think about this out loud because it's a really great question. There are things I chose not to write about. I did draw that line. But now that the book is coming out I'm realizing just how vulnerable I am in it. That is just my desperation for honesty; I'm so desperate to convey reality and give a clear picture of things that happened to me, so people can make up their minds about things on their own. There were also things that I considered leaving out but ultimately decided to include, because I felt like I would be publishing something incomplete and dishonest if I didn't.
Do you worry about some of that honesty getting mined for headlines?
I didn't when I was writing, because if I had then I wouldn't have written one single word. Literally, not one word. After I sold the book I had moments where I thought, "Oh God, what am I doing?" I will say that after eight years in the public eye, I'm very used to clickbait headlines and things getting blown up on the internet and taken out of context. I am also prepared for people to feel all kinds of things about this book. I don't mind. I don't mind people criticizing me, or disagreeing, as long as they 're engaging with the book and my ideas.