My Body, My Choice? The Dissonance Between Feminism and Capitalism in Emily Ratajkowski’s “My Body”



"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."

For many young women, the saying “beauty is pain” is an all-too-familiar refrain. It is as much an accepted aphorism for our lives as a pithy justification for what our bodies endure in service of the male gaze. I hear the phrase reverberate from the social media posts that swear by the transformational power of a green juice or slimming diet; out of the articles that claim an exercise fad is the key to self-care; and among the girls in my own life when we discuss what to wear and how to act. When I poke and pluck and prod at my body, trying to mold it into something that seems pretty until I can’t tell whether I am doing it for myself anymore, “beauty is pain” is the earworm that I cannot get out of my head.
To me, the maxim also represents a poignant reminder of the value of appearance in patriarchal and capitalist societies. The transactions we engage in to make a living may not always involve physical money, we are always exchanging some kind of currency– our time, our autonomy, our images, our bodies. There are steep prices to pay, both to achieve and subvert conventional body ideals.

The management and commodification of women’s bodies in exchange for money, fame, and power is the central issue around which Emily Ratajkowski’s My Body revolves. The series of personal essays recall and reflect upon her experiences as a public figure constrained by the ways her body and its presentation have been portrayed, and in some cases, sold, to appeal to men. As an American model, a representative for internationally coveted brands, and a writer in her own right, Ratajkowski occupies a unique position to evaluate the intersections between body politics and capitalism.

My Body is a reflective, if occasionally repetitive, exploration of how the author has experienced beauty as pain since childhood and changed her views on feminism. In a compelling way, My Body reads a bit like the monologue of an inner life crisis: Ratajkowski is honest about the fact that she is presenting incomplete thoughts to her readers as she continues to develop her opinions on politics and young womanhood. It is undeniably a book that made me think, and her willingness to admit that she, like many of us, is still figuring it out lends the text an engrossing sincerity.
Ratajkowski’s genuine reflection is palpable in the chapter “Blurred Lines,” an essay in which the writer considers how her perspective on the viral music video of the same name has changed. In 2013, the author’s performance in the video invigorated her modeling career. Critics of “Blurred Lines,” in which artist Robin Thicke croons “I know you want it” while dancing alongside women in nude thongs, denounced the music video for legitimizing rape culture and rationalizing wrongful acts of male entitlement toward the female body.
Yet when the video was initially released, a twenty-one-year-old Ratajkowski told interested media outlets that she believed her participation in it was empowering, even feminist. The essay explores her initial comfort with the project. Because the music video’s staff, including the director, was largely female-identifying, Ratajkowski first viewed dancing in “Blurred Lines” as an auspicious and paid opportunity to advance her career. After meeting some of the women working on set, she describes feeling so comfortable that she could dance “ridiculously, loosely,” the way she would to “entertain my girlfriends.”
But when she looks back on the event in her late twenties, the author finds that whatever power she thought she had derived from capitalizing on her body ultimately benefited men. She discloses that Robin Thicke assaulted her while on set, and in this context, newly perceives her dancing not as an act of defiance but as one of concession. Ratajkowski performed to fulfill the expectations of the male artists, agents, and actors around her.

This realization— that men reaped the greatest profits from the objectification of her body—- is a common conclusion in Ratajkowski’s essays. Sometimes, the winnings My Body criticizes involve actual money. For example, in the essay “Transactions,” Ratajkowski recalls receiving $25,000 to attend a Super Bowl with a billionaire, who is later revealed to be an international fugitive. The billionaire did not ask Ratajkowski to sign a contract in exchange for the money or her appearance at the football game. However, the model writes that the man’s behavior towards other famous women at the event made clear that he wanted her to proffer her body for his satisfaction.

In other instances, the arrangements organized by men presented career opportunities. The author’s lucid recollection of a male “party wrangler,” whose job was to lure young female models into spending time with wealthy men, provide a striking example. Party wranglers attempted to entice cash-strapped hopefuls with free dinners and invitations to Los Angeles clubs and popular events like Coachella. My Body’s condemnations of these transactions feel exciting to read. They are emblems of the author’s evolution in thinking since the beginning of her modeling career.

But Ratajkowski’s failure to acknowledge her role in perpetuating some of the systemic hierarchies that she criticizes prevents My Body from being as intersectional a meditation on modern feminism as it aspires to be. Comparable titles that discuss capitalism, identity, womanhood, and the body, such as Roxane Gay’s 2014 essay collection Bad Feminist, offer readers a richer discussion by recognizing from the outset that no person can be a perfect advocate without prejudice.

The essay “Bc Hello Halle Berry” demonstrates the limits of Ratajkowski’s perspective. In the chapter, the author chafes at her husband’s suggestion that she has become a capitalist. Despite making “a shit ton of money just by vacationing” at a hotel worth $400 million and uploading pictures to her Instagram account, Ratajkowski distinguishes herself from the other, presumably wealthy guests at the beach as someone who has effectively, if reluctantly, “worked the system.” She rebukes her husband with a false dilemma between profiting off of the image she projects of slim feminine beauty and not making money at all. “What am I going to do? Go live off the grid?” Ratajkowski demands. Her response neglected that, as a model with a net worth of $8 million and a substantial public platform, she retains her own pull within the capitalist system. Ratajkowski can find fault with how it has hurt her, but she also has contributed to upholding it.

What is most frustrating about this lack of accountability is its neglect of the impact that profiting from body objectification has imparted on today’s young women, especially women of color. Numerous studies have demonstrated that a young woman’s exposure to idealistic body images in media can affect her perception of her body and lead to self-harm. The recent shortage of Ozempic, a medication for patients with Type 2 diabetes, reminds us of this research and the pervasive idolization of the thin white body. TikTok users purchased the drug in excess when clips of its “miracle” weight loss results among celebrities went viral.

I do not want to argue that individuals should not profit from their image at all if it is what they desire. However, we must recognize that the ways we choose to market and sell our bodies as commodities can have tangible consequences. When individuals like the Ratajkowski, who meet social conventions of beauty and have a significant social following, choose to publicize products employing an established body ideal, they risk promoting a conflation of the good they want to sell and the image of the body they used to encourage the transaction. It’s not just the skin cream or the diet tea or the model bikini they are advertising, but also the exclusive body standards that accompany those goods.
Adherence to those body standards, though portrayed as effortless, is often achieved through pain. The author briefly mentions that she earned more money in modeling after losing ten pounds and smoking cigarettes to deter her appetite, but she does not expound upon these experiences, nor upon the potential impact of the resulting photos on young viewers. The body standards she profits from are also not universally achievable: social orders that the author omits from her essays, including those of race, sexuality, able-bodiedness, and class, among others, prevent women of color, LGBTQ+ women, disabled women, and poor women from monetizing their beauty and bodies in the same way as Ratajkowski.

As the author writes, it is undeniable that the modeling industry has, at times, rendered her a “pawn” of capitalism and patriarchy. But the game is not zero-sum. Ratajkowski is also a player.


  1. Wow, that is one fascinating book.

  2. This book has me intrigued! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  3. A really interesting post, Claire, and I appreciated the studies you've linked. I had no idea that there's been a shortage of Ozempic because of its weight loss effects. That is certainly a major symptom of a large problem within the world of social media, in which one thing goes viral and suddenly those who depend on something can't purchase it because everyone wants it. It's interesting to consider that those who purchased the drug because they wanted to lose weight aren't mainly to blame too. As social media consumers we are often manipulated by advertisements and certain narratives, and it's simply sad to see that so many people felt like they needed to purchase the drug in order to feel worthy of continuing to participate in social media's toxic culture.

  4. This is so thought provoking. And as a guy I hesitate to comment because I've never experienced this, but at the same time I can relate to how capitalism sometimes makes us- or especially people like her, with a platform- part of the problem. so much to mull over here. Where do we draw the line between "working" the system and realizing the system is terrible?

  5. As interesting as I think this would be, I'm not sure I would appreciate the way the author chose to present her views. Between the "monologue of an inner life crisis" and (in the author's own words) her "incomplete thoughts", I feel like I would struggle with the presentation. Even so, it's obvious this is a thought-provoking topic.

  6. This sure sounds like a thought provoking read.

  7. I have this on my TBR but reading your review makes me really excited to read it! I love how thought provoking your review is, especially on the topic of accountability from the author herself.

  8. Love, love, love this review. I've had some similar thoughts when watching her promote the book (although I have not read it).

    I think she's growing and learning and, as you do, your perspective shifts, yet she is seemingly unaware of her privilege (What should I do? Live off the grid? - that's not exactly her options or a worry for her) and her part in the perpetuation of it all.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

  9. Kudos to you for publicizing a book whose message needs to get out. Understanding the deep, pervasive sexism in our society is essential to learning how things work. My acquisition of a feminist consciousness 40 year ago enabled me to "see" things as they truly are. Everyone should get that education in their life.