You may have heard of Emily before, or you may have seen her face (or body) before and not known her name. Regardless of whether you know of her or not, Emily Ratajkowski is a feminist, resilient force, and with her first collection of essays about femininity, power, ownership, sexuality, consent, and abuse, you can feel her every emotion bleeding out on the page.
Emily is known for being the nearly naked woman in the infamous 2013 “Blurred Lines” music video, which catapulted her to being a household name. But here lies part of the issue: because of this one choice in her career, how she shows up in this world has been grossly simplified, ignoring her existence as a complex whole person. In her essay of the same title, “Blurred Lines”, Emily explains the nuances of this one job that she agreed to, and all of her life experiences that had come before this job that had motivated her to sign the contract. “What the hell. Who watches music videos anymore anyway?”, she remarked. Little did Emily know that this one job would make her a famous, wealthy woman and simultaneously bar her from a seat at the proverbial table.
“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.”Page 47, “My Body”
Emly has realized in choosing a career that overvalues her looks comes at a steep price. She’s been forced to relinquish the right to be anything more than ‘eye candy’ for all to enjoy at their leisure and simultaneously slut-shame. She is no longer allowed to have opinions on art, culture, philosophy, or (gosh forbid) politics. And she is no longer respected as a survivor of sexualized violence.
Emily was sexually assaulted on the set of the “Blurred Lines” video, a fact that is overshadowed by the narrative society has created about her. She describes some of the thoughts and impacts she remembers having, all of which are extremely common reflections of survivors we talk to at SSAIC:
- “I nodded, and I may have even smiled, embarrassed and desperate to minimize the situation.” pg. 46
- “I was also ashamed – of the fun that I’d had dancing around naked.” pg. 46
- “My body was light and fragile, like a shell doomed to shatter.” pg. 51
- “I can imagine [another survivor] saying confidently, ‘I didn’t want that,’ without shame, without blaming herself. Why hadn’t I developed that skill?” pg. 56
- “I cried because, unlike the girl who’d accused him of r*pe, I hadn’t been able to say, I was violated.” pg. 60
- “I was sure that I was someone who did not deserve to be safe.” pg. 60
She nodded and smiled to minimize the discomfort of the crew and celebrity. She suddenly felt shame about her nakedness, something she’d not felt before. She felt small, fragile, and unworthy of safety. All because one person chose to violate her.
Similarly to many survivors of sexualized violence, this was not Emily’s first time being victimized (and sadly was not her last). In an earlier essay titled “My Son, Sun”, she reflected on how her teenage self felt about feeling stuck in a relationship with her abusive boyfriend:
- “After I escaped him, I was riddled with guilt. Food was unappetizing. I couldn’t sleep, knowing [he] might show up at my parents’ house or hurt himself to spite me, which he had threatened to do.” pg. 53
- “I inhaled and drew up a memory of how I thought a woman behaved when she comforted a man.” pg. 52
- “I had been cast as the loving and concerned girlfriend, but I didn’t want the part.” pg. 52
- “I hated myself.” pg. 54
- “I cried because I felt guilt for abandoning him.” pg. 60
Many survivors of abusive relationships share incredibly similar experiences in our counselling chairs. Feelings of responsibility, obligation, guilt, and fear. Feeling like this is something they deserve, or that they can somehow fix. Emily’s collection of essays beautifully shines a light on these all-too-common experiences of survivors, and shows what healing can look like with some awareness, therapy, and support.
My favourite essay in the bunch, “Buying Myself Back”, is perhaps one of the most striking memoir-esque stories I’ve ever read. You can get a taste of Emily’s writing by reading “Buying Myself Back” here online (but I recommend buying her whole book).
Read the stories that survivors willingly share with the world. These gifts help allies have a deeper understanding of what survivors carry with them, and allow survivors to peel away layers of shame when they see themselves in someone else’s story. Emily’s experiences are not unique or unheard of; unfortunately, they are quite the opposite. Survivors deserve more with less justification and explanation. Thank-you, Emily, for giving voice to survivors everywhere and helping survivors feel less alone.
Buy “My Body” at your local bookstore or online retailer.