Emily Ratajkowski has been an online fixture in the realms of both modeling and acting for years, ever since her image exploded into the public consciousness with her appearance in the “Blurred Lines” music video. However, the extremely fraught nature of that image is the very subject of an essay written by Ratajkowski that was published yesterday in New York magazine, and which details her struggle to financially and spiritually reclaim artwork and pictures that exploited her body and face. In the essay, entitled “Buying Myself Back,” Ratajkowski makes the allegation that after a professional photo shoot in 2012 with the photographer Jonathan Leder, he assaulted her by digitally penetrating her without permission when she was extremely intoxicated. Ratajkowski had also only approved the images made during the shoot appear in a magazine spread, but Leder has also gone on to publish them in several books without her consent.
Since then, according to Ratajkowski, Leder has apparently been publishing unauthorized books of photography and staging exhibitions of the explicit photographs he took of her back in 2012, on the same evening during which the alleged assault took place. “For years, while I built a career, he’d kept that Emily in the drawers of his creaky old house, waiting to whore her out,” Ratajkowski writes. “It was intoxicating to see what he’d done with this part of me he’d stolen.”
Additionally, Ratajkowski details other episodes wherein artists have used her image without her consent. One of the most pointed instances of this is her writing about the hypocrisy of the artist Richard Prince, who profited enormously off of recreating images sourced from Instagram in paintings that later sold for tens of thousands of dollars. One of the images Prince used for a painting was pulled directly from Ratajkowski’s Instagram account, and although she later purchased the painting, she also found herself embroiled in a tug-of-war with an ex boyfriend over a black-and-white study of the work after the two had broken up.
Shatteringly, this dispute was occurring in the aftermath of an online photo leak in which numerous nude photographs of Ratajkowski were leaked on 4chan. “I’d been destroyed,” Ratajkowski writes. “I’d lost ten pounds in five days and a chunk of hair fell out a week later, leaving a perfectly round circle of white skin on the back of my head.”
The model and actress also recounts that because many of the photographs Leder took are already online, her lawyers have advised her that there’s little she can do to stop him from continuing to profit off images of her without engaging in a lengthy and draining legal battle. It’s a heartbreaking non-conclusion to a series of indignities that don’t seem to be ending anytime soon.