Emily Ratajkowski is no stranger to posting provocative images on social media, but what becomes alarmingly apparent in her essay ‘Buying Myself Back’ for New York Magazine is that her image has not always belonged to her.
The essay details Emily’s painful fight to secure the rights to her own self-image, while having her privacy violated by those around her. Emily mediates, heartrendingly, on “all these men” – photographers, paparazzi, ex-boyfriends – debating who owned her image.
The essay focuses largely on photographer Jonathan Leder and the alleged events that followed a 2012 shoot at his home in Woodstock. Emily’s agent, a woman who had “full control” of the model’s career, had set up the unpaid shoot, in which she was encouraged to drink alcohol and dress up in lingerie, and subsequently remove all her clothing. Leder snapped Polaroids, which he kept in a filing cabinet Emily likens to a “morgue”.
As I read Emily’s essay, I couldn’t stop thinking about the compliant women she had relied on for protection: the makeup artist, a woman who transformed Emily into Leder’s various visions; and the agent, blindly sending her to his home.
Leder had allegedly sexually assaulted Emily during the shoot, an event she desperately tried to forget. Years later, however, Leder illegally produced a book of the Polaroids, claiming the model had signed a release for the images.
Emily took to Twitter, calling the book a violation. “You could always keep your clothes on and then you won’t be bothered by these things,” a woman responded. A pang of guilt stung my chest. I had naively said similar things. I was unknowingly another compliant woman.
Our arts society puts women like Emily at risk, robbing models of the right to protect their own image and succouring those who seek to capitalise on them.
Why, I ask, does our society revere provocative art but chastise provocative women?