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, often 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; from the articles that claim exercise fads are the key to self-care; and from the mouths of girls in my own life when we discuss what to wear and how to act. When I poke, pluck, and prod at my body, trying to mold it into something that would seem pretty until I can’t tell whether I am doing this work for myself anymore, "beauty is pain" is the earworm that I cannot get out of my head.

 To me, the maxim 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, but we are always exchanging some kind of currency—our time, our autonomy, our images, our bodies— in pursuit of advancement, and, arguably, survival. Both to achieve and subvert conventionally accepted body ideals, there are steep prices to pay.

The management and commodification of women’s bodies in such exchanges of money, fame, and power is the central issue of Emily Ratajkowski's My Body. In the series of personal essays, the author  recalls her experiences as a public figure to interrogate the ways her body and its presentation have been constrained, portrayed, and, in some cases, sold, to appeal to men. As an American model, a representative of internationally coveted fashion brands, and a writer in her own right, Ratajkowski occupies a unique position to evaluate the intersections between capitalism and public perceptions of women's bodies.
In a compelling way, My Body reads a bit like the monologue of an inner life crisis. As she explores how she has encountered beauty as pain since childhood, the author is honest about the fact that she is presenting incomplete thoughts to her readers. Ratajkowski acknowledges that, like many of us, she is still figuring it out: her perspective continues to evolve as she learns more about politics, engages in deeper self-study, and grows older. The result of this conditioned approach to storytelling— one that makes room for human imperfection and growth— is a collection that feels genuinely reflective, if occasionally repetitive.
The author's sincerity is palpable in the chapter "Blurred Lines." In the essay, Ratajkowski discusses how her views on her participation in Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams's viral music video have changed since she was a young adult. In 2013, the author's performance in the video as an actress and dancer launched her modeling career. The video featured a dark-suited Thicke, crooning suggestive, at times possessive lyrics ("I know you want it") while surrounded by women dancing in nude thongs. Upon the release of "Blurred Lines," many critics swiftly denounced it for legitimizing rape culture and rationalizing wrongful acts of male entitlement toward the female body.
But Ratajkowski felt differently, at least at first. She was, the writer reminds us, a twenty-one-year-old trying to make a name for herself in a difficult industry. To the surprise of the video's detractors, the author told media outlets that she considered her participation in the music video to be empowering and even feminist. The staff of the music video, including the director, had been largely female-identifying; Ratajkowski saw performing in "Blurred Lines" as a paid and auspicious opportunity to advance her career within a community she felt safe in. After meeting some of the women working with her on set, the author felt so comfortable that she felt free to dance "ridiculously, loosely," the way she would to "entertain my girlfriends."
Yet retelling the story in her late twenties brought the author to a novel conclusion. Ratajkowski finds that whatever personal power she thought she had derived from capitalizing on her body in "Blurred Lines" ultimately benefited the men around her. She discloses that Thicke sexually assaulted her while she was on set, an incident she spent years trying to ignore. In this context, the writer perceives her dancing not as an act of defiance but as one of concession.
This realization— that men reaped the greatest profits from the objectification of her body— is a common discovery in My Body. Sometimes, the gains involved material money. In the essay "Transactions," Ratajkowski remembers receiving $25,000 to attend a Super Bowl with a billionaire who is later revealed to be an international fugitive. The man never asked Ratajkowski to sign a contract in exchange for the grand sum; she was simply asked to make an appearance at the football game, seemingly with no strings attached. However, his behavior towards Ratajkowski and other women at the sporting event made his true expectations clear to the author. He wanted her to feign interest in him, to flirt, and to make him feel desired. He wanted her body.
In other instances, the transactions arbitrated by men presented Ratajkowski with career opportunities. The author's lucid recollection of a male "party wrangler" provides a striking example. Party wranglers were paid to lure young female models into spending time with wealthy men. They offered cash-strapped and frequently underage hopefuls free dinners, drinks, and invitations to exclusive Los Angeles clubs and popular events like Coachella. My Body's condemnations of these immaterial interactions are engrossing to read. They are emblems of the author's self-professed growth since the beginning of her modeling career.
What frustrated me most about this book was Ratajkowski's avoidance of (or refusal to discuss) her own role in perpetuating some of the systems that enable such warped transactions to ensue. It prevents My Body from being as intersectional a meditation on modern feminism as it aspires to be. Comparable titles that discuss capitalism, womanhood, and the body while acknowledging individual imperfection, such as Roxane Gay's 2014 essay collection Bad Feminist, offer readers a richer discussion. Gay, like Ratajkowski, initiates her book by recognizing from the outset that no person can be a perfect advocate and establishing that she is an imperfect narrator. Where Gay distinguishes herself in her introduction is by turning her lens inward. No person— she included — is free of prejudice. 
The essay "Bc Hello Halle Berry" demonstrates the limits of Ratajkowski’s approach. In the chapter, the author chafes at her husband’s joking 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. She views herself as someone who has effectively, and maybe even reluctantly, "worked the system." The author then rebukes her husband with a false dilemma between profiting from the image of slim feminine beauty and a dim alternative: not making money at all. "What am I going to do? Go live off the grid?" Ratajkowski demands. The writer's response neglected that, as a model with a net worth of $8 million and a substantial public following, she retains a significant pull within the capitalist system. The system has hurt her, but she has also contributed to upholding it.
Profiting from body objectification affects young women today, especially women of color. Ratajkowski never addresses this fact, nor that her public role may contribute to it. Numerous studies have demonstrated that a girl’s exposure to idealistic body images in the 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 who did not have Type 2 diabetes 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. However, we must recognize that the ways we choose to participate in the marketing and sale of our bodies can have tangible consequences. 
When individuals like Ratajkowski, who meet social conventions of beauty and command massive followings, choose to publicize products and experiences on the promise of their appearance, they risk promoting the image of the body they are using to encourage the transaction— not just the product they are trying to sell. They advertise not just the skin cream, the diet tea, or the model bikini; they also commodify exclusive body standards.
Adherence to those body standards, though frequently 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 or the potential impact of the resulting photos and campaigns on young viewers. The body standards that allow Ratajkowski to profit are also not universally achievable: social orders absent from My Body, including those of race, sexuality, able-bodiedness, and class, among others, prevent many women from monetizing their beauty in the same way as the author.
It is undeniable that the modeling industry has, as the author writes, wrongly 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.