Emily Ratajkowski had toiled in relative secrecy on a series of essays. But when she got the idea that one day maybe, just maybe, she’d like them to see the light of day, she sought advice. “I have contacted” [authors] Ariel Levy, Stephanie Danler and Jen Silverman. I was like, ‘Hey, I love your writing. Can you tell me if I’m terrible?'” the 30-year-old model turned essayist told Bustle. All three replied to let Ratajkowski know that no, she was actually far from terrible. “Stephanie had no idea who I was when I emailed her and was like, ‘I’m not sure what you’re looking for, but if you’re wondering if you’re a writer, then you are.'”
Ratajkowski says Danler, the author of sweet bitter, said “the thing I needed to hear” to begin writing her debut essay collection in earnest. My body is not your traditional celebrity memoir. It’s definitely not a hero’s journey through the Hollywood system. Instead, it’s a rumination on the caustic power of the male gaze, explored by the women it has affected.
Although Ratajkowski initially didn’t realize she was writing that. “I had to look closely and ask, ‘What am I saying here in general?’ It became clear that every essay had to do with the female body,” she explains, citing The empathy exams, the accounts, and How do you write an autobiographical novel? as its sources of inspiration. “If it’s not my body, then my mother’s body, a famous woman’s body, or a friend’s body. All the essays were about the politics of the female body.”
While it’s a collection that should be required reading for everyone, Ratajkowski is most hopeful that it will reach teenage girls. “I want them to give themselves a break,” she says of the message she hopes they get from the book. “There is so much pressure. Even when you go to secondary school: what do you wear? Are you having sex with that boy? Don’t you? How do you represent yourself in the world?” Below, Ratajkowski reflects on writing from bed, The right to sex, and the rough drafts that fill her Notes app.
When reading a spiritual companion at My body
The right to sex by Amia Srinivasan is definitely the best book I’ve read recently. It came out last month and it’s incredible, and I think it’s inseparable from some of the ideas in My body. Just the idea that men would feel this right to sex or the right to women’s bodies. Rather than just dismissing it, she takes a harder look and asks, “Well, who’s entitled to sex?” When does that apply? How does that work?” She’s not afraid to question things we’ve accepted as untouchable.
About writing rough drafts in her Notes app
Sometimes, when I’ve had a busy but calm morning, I suddenly get overwhelmed by sentences. I don’t always get the hang of them, but I just start writing in my Notes app. Many times I would copy and paste what I had written into a Word document – just to be clear, not fully formed, real sentences – but it would be helpful because once you start writing an essay it can be very difficult to continue that kind of stream of consciousness, because you’re so into it with the words. While having that kind of skeletal stream of consciousness [in the Notes app shows] “Oh, and that reminded me of this, and I think that’s somehow connected.”
About not wanting to feel like “a piece of shit” while writing
I try to have a morning routine when I go to write where I shower and feel myself half decent so I can face whatever may come and not feel like a piece of shit. Just to be clear, that means going back to bed – I like to write from bed, which my husband thinks is absolutely insane – with a bit of makeup on and wearing something different than what I’ve been sleeping on. It does the trick.
About having the ultimate deadline to finish the book
So much of the book was written before I even thought of it as a book. So when it came time to have deadlines, it got harder for me because I didn’t have that free-flow, zero-pressure thing. I was very nervous and those were the days when it became very difficult for me to write because the pressure was so great. Besides, I was pregnant. I had this real deadline of the growing baby and knowing, “He’s going to be here, and I want to finish this book as best I can.”
This interview has been edited and abbreviated for clarity.