literary masochism: an unintentional dissertation on lizard people

I was introduced to actress/supermodel/writer Emily Ratajkowski when the photo of her holding her baby like a pile of dirty rags she used to clean up dog piss with went viral. I have no reason to keep up with celebrities; as a 27-year-old restaurant manager who never abandoned her adolescent emo phase, their lives haven’t the slightest relevance to mine, and I gain nothing from staring at beautiful photos of beautiful people who know how to work and please the Internet beautifully, except maybe feeling like I should have taken all the money I spent on my first bottle of Retinol and purchased a handle of whiskey and a 24-pack of sleeping pills, instead… I don’t need that, and considering the current desolate state of the world, I don’t believe anyone needs that, but there are endless available options of escapism, and idolizing gorgeous people is far less pernicious than, y’know, giving heroin an honest try. 

(This is coming from someone who once got lost for hours on the white rapper Stitches’ Instagram, so please do not feel as if I am suggesting I am better than anyone for preferring to keep my feed full of shitposts instead of Hollywood stars; it’s a preventative measure, honestly. 

Also, Google “Stitches” at your own risk… I would prefer a group of Black Eyed Children to show up on my front porch, begging to be let in, than that scary ass man.

Also, I have been beside myself in grief over the untimely demise of the band Every Time I Die, who are my “celebrities,” so I am truly so full of shit that my stench has become unbearable, but I am mentioning this so you don’t because any impromptu reminder that Daddy God took them away carries an enormous risk of me busting out into an unstoppable deluge of tears.

Now, let’s review a fuckin’ book.) 

A friend suggested that I read My Body, Emily Ratajkowski’s 2021 collection of personal essays for my next Literary Masochism piece. The book was too new for me to find a used copy, and though Emily is hundreds of thousands of paces behind Ben Shapiro on the list of the famous who deserve the guillotine, I think a local bookstore deserves my $5 more than she does… or maybe I am a writer who apparently hates supporting other writers. Either way, had that same friend not gifted me a copy, this would have been arbitrarily written six years from now, once her fans who purchased it but never cracked it open move into an apartment with no built-in decorative shelving and donate their copy — alongside Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, cookbooks by people from Tiktok whom I am too old to have ever heard of, and Kim Kardashian’s selfie book — to the Goodwill… just like the rest of my reviews. Too much too late.

The cover is understated but classically eye-catching, with what I assume was obvious intent, considering the subject matter, to not use her highly recognized profile to draw anyone in. I let out an anguished groan upon spotting the back-cover blurb from Lena Dunham, or She-Who-Put-Rocks-Inside-Of-Her-Sister’s-Vagina-As-A-Child-And-Saw-Nothing-Wrong-With-Admitting-That, along with Amy Schumer’s short testimony on the inside flap, fearing that we were already off to a terrible start and an even worse ending, but had I expected everyone’s least favorite deacons of white feminism to not endorse this, then that’s my own folly. 

The introduction covers how her appearance in the infamous video for Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharell’s 2015 song “Blurred Lines” skyrocketed her career (along with a subsequent surge of female celebrities advocating for feminism). She claimed to initially not understand the outrage regarding the video’s content — “I argued that I felt confident in my body and my nakedness, and who was anyone to tell me that I wasn’t empowered by dancing around naked? In fact, wasn’t it anti-women to try to tell me what to do with my body?” — and I, at a mere three pages in, had to pause, remove my glasses, and rub my temples to quell the germinating headache. 

I had rewatched both the censored and uncensored version of the video prior to diving into the book, and to say I was “outraged” would be to dull down my reaction; as it has been widely discussed, both the song and video are foul in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with it containing dancing, naked models; she is absolutely correct in defense of her role in the video. HOWEVER, “Blurred Lines” just may be the catchiest anthem of rape culture to have ever been written and blared on every goddamn radio station eighty times a day upon its release, and I wanted to ram my head into a sharp corner of a wall over the scene where Robin Thicke blows cigarette smoke into Elle Evans’ face. As a model, and thus, a literal fucking professional at controlling their facial expressions, she was clearly unable to hide her disgust and discomfort; as a cigarette smoker, that’s fucking foul and degrading. 

(Fair warning, alongside Googling “Stitches,” please watch the video for “Blurred Lines” at your own risk, both out of the content and the fact that I ended up having that fucking travesty stuck in my head for THREE AGONIZING WEEKS. It’s not worth it.) 

Alas, I knew from the book’s publicity that she later exposes Robin Thicke for inappropriately and nonconsensually touching her breast during the shoot, so I carried on, aware that the essays are chronicling her journey with feminism throughout her career, so she will redeem herself for defending that hot trash at some point… hopefully. When she mentioned how growing up pretty was difficult as she often found herself in confusing situations, such as when her cousin, who was insecure about her looks (a common side-effect of trauma/abuse that I understand isn’t Emily’s fault, but it sure as hell isn’t theirs, either) was afraid to leave Emily alone with her boyfriend, and how once she began modeling, she realized her body/looks were “a commodifiable asset, something the world valued,” my confidence — not in my looks, but in how much I would enjoy and relate to this book — dwindled further… and after finishing it, I am having a hard time deciphering who genuinely can/would.  

She claims that when she was a child, she used to “pray for beauty.” While this had me wondering if not doing the same is where I fucked up, somehow setting my mother on the wrong path to where she couldn’t afford for me to get braces, I don’t think I am ugly; when I wait tables, I know that if I put on a full face of makeup, brush my hair, and squeeze into a tight, revealing dress, I will get good tips, thus, exploiting/making a career out of my looks in a similar way… but I do not look like Emily Ratajkowski. The world is filled with beautiful people, each with something unique to offer, but about 97% of the population do not look like Emily Ratajkowski. Whether it be suffering through hilariously awkward, gawky pre-pubescent years or crippling insecurities that linger into adulthood as a result of hatred from others or disillusionment encouraged by the media, most of us did not grow up knowing we were beautiful like Emily Ratajkowski did. 

(One of the only things that I genuinely related to was her interspersing how her mother constantly reminded her that she is beautiful and placing profound importance on receiving validation from men, as if that is the only thing she should strive for, while inconspicuously comparing herself to/pitting herself against her own daughter. That doesn’t pertain to me in the slightest; my mother, who thinks I am the World’s Most Beautiful Swan™ as mothers are wont to do, has long since accepted that I am far too mean and foul to ever receive an offer to be a trophy wife, and her typical response to any of my love interests/romantic affairs is some variant of “the goddamn hell do you need another one for? They’re all worthless!” 

What I can sympathize with is how, whether intentional or not, she just popped those memories in there without addressing how they may have distorted her perception of herself or damaged her in other pernicious ways… That is insidious abuse that I, and surely plenty of others, have experienced, but she loves her mom and doesn’t want to speak out against her.

Plus, y’all know me: I love writing about problems without addressing the fact that they are problems or doing anything to fix them at all! I wrote two whole books of that evasive shit!) 

Because most of us are also not famous nor supermodels and thus, not privy to the tribulations of that industry, I found her recollections of abuse by men (and women, unfortunately) with power and pull in that universe to be both fascinating and infuriating. It served as proof (as if we needed any more) that if you give a man a muffin, he will gladly strip himself of what it is to be a “man” until he is his most primitive form — a fucking viciously disgusting, prurient, degrading pig — under the false belief that it is the opposite, that he has undergone an apotheosis and is now his most venerable self and surely, above you, woman, and he commands respect. In “Buying Myself Back,” the essay chronicling her ceaseless legal battle with a heinous photographer who not only sexually abused her after feeding her copious amounts of alcohol, but proceeded to exploit the photographs for money for years and speaking about her/on her behalf despite spending approximately twelve hazy hours with her, his recollected commentary alone was enough to make me want to buy however much cocaine I would need to build a guillotine in about six hours. Some examples:

“You know, I thought you would be bigger. A big girl. […] You know, big-boned. Fat.”

“This one is so good because of your nipples. Your nipples change so much from hard to soft. But I like them when they are gigantic. […] I love when they’re giant. Giant and exaggerated.” 

…And lest not forget the first thing he said to her upon stripping and beginning their nude shoot: “iCarly,” referencing the Nickelodeon show she made a brief cameo on… as a fucking adolescent. 

A peculiar trend that did nothing to redeem the disjoint permeating from every one of her essays is that each member of the rich/elite/famous social circle mentioned, with the exception of her husband and at times, Emily herself, all seem like absolute fucking reptiles… lizard people… NON-HUMAN ENTITIES. In “BC Hello Halle Berry,” an essay about how her husband argued with her that While Yes, Capitalism Bad, We Are On A Paid Vacation At A Resort We Would Never Otherwise Be Able To Afford Because You Are Sexy And They Want You To Advertise It On Instagram And Also Using This As An Opportunity To Take Pictures For Your Bikini Line Is, In Fact, CAPITALISM, BABY, YOU ARE A CAPITALIST, thus upsetting Emily in between her making sure her most recent Instagram post garners the expected 923423535235252875001257013573589539523582352 likes. 

Instead of making the slightest effort to rectify the abomination that was the first half of the essay, Emily explains how and why she relates to Halle Berry. Now, before I proceed, think for a minute… Do you relate to Halle Berry? I don’t think I do, but I never followed her career much.

Emily, while wading in the gorgeous surf on the private beach of the resort reserved for gazillionaires (and the occasional charity-case supermodel from Instagram and their elusive “producer” husbands), probably at the exact moment the lighting reached golden hour, for whatever reason “adjusted [her] bikini bottom to wedge it further up [her] ass,” and… for whatever reason… pondered Halle Berry. She reflected on how the actress won an Oscar, not for her role as a bombshell Bond girl, but for “making herself ugly” in Monster’s Ball

Though I intrinsically knew the answer, out of journalistic integrity, I searched for stills of Halle Berry from that film to confirm that there was nothing “ugly” about her character: It is her without glamorous makeup or luxury clothing, which is still stunningly beautiful, because she is Halle Fuckin’ Berry. Aside from being a standard of perfection for looks, she is a talented actress, and that is how she snagged her Oscar; while I could argue that it ain’t all that deep, Emily, with a heavy heart following this realization, feels inclined to pull her bikini bottom out of her crack… It’s been a hard day in paradise for our humble, beautiful, Capitalist narrator, but alas, she is wrenched from the peak of despair that I always thought pretty people with lots of money were spared from ever reaching by recalling how a friend had recently sent her this quote from Ms. Berry: “My looks haven’t spared me one hardship”; it made Emily’s friend think of her, they said. 

I initially felt a bit betrayed that my friends send me artistic Christmas-themed renditions of The Human Centipede, appropriately titled The Human Santapede, and memes that read “LIFE DIDN’T GIVE ME LEMONS, IT GAVE ME PANTS AND I’VE SHIT THEM,” instead of uplifting quotes about how lovely I am, but again, I am not Emily Ratajkowski, nor Halle Berry, but I… I don’t get it. I don’t get about 90% of this book. 

I don’t get how people like the actress mentioned on the following page can say something like “I mean, you’re lucky, with your whole political thing, being outspoken and supporting Bernie, all that stuff, I think people take you more seriously,” with full earnesty and no reservations about sounding like an iguana in a designer turtleneck sweater without a brain and thus, the ability to rationalize, logically deduce anything at all, or empathize with their fellow kind. 

I don’t get what the point of the following essay about her routine trips to the Korean spa was, besides disclosing that she, like many famous whities have taken to admitting, is bad at personal hygiene, but still gets hit on without her makeup on. 

I don’t get how any of the filthy rich, abominable, drug-addled reptilian men that paid for her company in the next essay can manage to exist, to breath and function as if they are alive, despite being entirely dead and devoid on the inside, and I wish I didn’t get why she failed to acknowledge that when you are poor, partaking in the same business carries a tremendous risk of being FUCKING MURDERED because you are not a gorgeous supermodel that someone imbecile paid $20,000 to spend an evening with, but instead, disparaged by many who regard you as a lower-life form, invaluable in the worst way, but we all know why: because she doesn’t get it. Why would she?

I don’t get what the point was of the first half of the essay about her husband being late to take her out to some industry party (that she regretted going to because she was treated like a decorative plant), but they had sex about it, so it was ok! Everything was fine! (Even though she included the redundant detail that she wore red lipgloss and there is no feasible way that one can makeout/fuck wearing any substantial amount of makeup, let alone RED LIPGLOSS, and be presentable after; the b-side to “Partition” by Beyoncé is that they went home… Another set of evening plans despoiled by horniness.) 

Reading this was far less an act of Literary Masochism than most I have reviewed for this series, and as someone who went to English-teacher-school, I confidently state that if Emily ever scored less than a 100 on any graded paper, it was probably because of a citation era or some other trivial bullshit, but does that make her a good author, writer? No. While many of her stories/experiences in the modeling/entertainment industry were eye-opening, fascinating, and often harrowing, her words lacked flair, humor, and a distinct voice; her recollections were presented with the bland objectivity of a local news report/article. Having an intriguing story doesn’t automatically render you the ideal one to tell it; Dave Eggers is an author who takes others’ tales and spins them extremely well. (Check out The Monk of Mokha, What is the What, Zeitoun; A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius is a perfect memoir.) 

…I don’t know who this book was for, besides Emily Ratajkowski herself; I don’t know who would get it, but you’re welcome to give it a shot. 

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