Emily Ratajkowski says she had a ‘sick relationship’ with her body in early 20s: ‘It became my career and my whole identity’

Emily Ratajkowski on how she's redefining her relationship with her body. (Photo: Tom Newton; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
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It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Emily Ratajkowski used her body to stake her claim to fame. Now, she's ready for people to get to know the real her.

The 31-year-old model and actress, best known for emerging onto the scene after her breakout appearance in the music video for Robin Thicke's 2013 hit "Blurred Lines," has spent the past year on a journey of reintroducing herself. More importantly, she's been relearning who she actually is, starting with her Oct. 2021 book, My Body.

"I started writing the book, not because I was like, 'This is what I've learned.' It was because I really wanted to kind of investigate the experience I've had and even just how my politics had been formed, and honestly to kind of figure out what I've done wrong and why I felt the way I did about so many things," Ratajkowski tells Yahoo Life of the collection of essays that she wrote exploring the perception of herself as it pertained to concepts like the male gaze and female empowerment. "It was kind of an attempt to punish myself, I want to say, when I first started writing."

Ratajkowski's book was met with rave reviews and nuanced conversations as she revealed her unique point of view on her career, the power she's yielded through her beauty and how it's seemingly defined her place in the world.

"I think a lot of women in your early 20s — because it's sort of like, you're sexualized, and you're coming into your sexual being, you're an adult, you know, but you're still really young – have a really kind of sick relationship with your body in that period. Mine especially was that way because I was commodifying my body and it was my living and also like, how I became famous, and it became my career and my whole identity," she says.

To the surprise of many, she also revealed how it dissents from who she knows herself to be.

"I didn't want to just be a body, I never had. And [the book] was really, I think, just kind of born out of a depression, essentially. And being like, 'Wait, this has not made me happy,'" she continues. "I wanted to give this one dimensional kind of caricature of myself that had been out in the world a voice. And it felt super important."

While a piece of her exploration was for herself, there was a lot she felt other women could gain through her divulging the reality of her situation.

"Once I started writing the book, I really stopped thinking about kind of what people wanted me to be, or how I could continue to profit off of this image, this EmRata personality, and just really embracing who I actually am and the things I'm thinking about and my identity personally, but also as a public figure," she says. "So much of the messaging that young girls get is like, 'If you're the hottest, and if you're the most perfect, then your life will be great.' I realized that that was how a lot of people regarded this persona, not even me, but this persona and what I represented in the world, and I felt an obligation to correct that. And explain like, 'No, no, there's no winning.' And also just this will never bring you happiness and joy, that's something you have to do internally."

She ultimately hopes to have done her part to demystify the toxicity that surrounds beauty ideals and the way that women everywhere strive to fit into them.

"You have this idea, this goal of being a type of woman, being beautiful. You know, like my living was based on the way I look and my identity in the world, and just how much that infiltrates so much of how women think of themselves. And now everyone is putting out an image of themselves. We all have Instagrams, we all have social media. Even just how we get dressed," she says of the pressure that women specifically face when it comes to presenting themselves a certain way. "I think that I realized that my experience was maybe more relatable than I even realized."

She continues, "Being objectified and sexualizing yourself and letting others sexualize you won't bring you power, and it won't bring you joy. Or I'll say this, it will bring you a certain amount of power."

With the power and platform that she's been given through her career thus far, Ratajkowski is choosing to lend her voice to what she believes are important conversations about politics, philosophy, feminism, sex and pop culture through her new podcast High Low with EmRata produced by Sony Music Entertainment and Somethin' Else. And while years of being a pretty face with a bombshell body have put her in precarious situations and exposed her to degradation and even assault, the model says that speaking up is proving to be quite the challenge.

"I'm just so much more fulfilled and so much happier because I feel I like myself more. I feel respected and heard and all the things that we know human beings need in a way that I just didn't when I was an object, basically. It's complicated because I do have impostor syndrome and I do have internalized misogyny and it's scary," she says. "It's scarier than just being able to like, you know, be a body, but it also makes me so much happier. So it's high risk, high reward, I would say."

In the meantime, she acknowledges that these milestones in her career aren't destinations, but rather a part of the journey.

"I never wrote the book from a perspective of like, I have all the answers, I'm sitting on a mountaintop, like, you know, enlightenment zone. I still am very much kind of trying to figure out what these things are. And I'm hoping the podcast will also be investigative in that way and more food for thought and more about getting people to think about these things than providing a very specific perspective that then is like, 'This is how we should be thinking about it.' Like I want it to be an ongoing dialogue," she says, much like she views her own life and her relationship with her body. "It's an ongoing process that still continues for me to have perspective on the things that I wrote about and my own experience, in a way that kind of shocks me to be honest."

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