Arwa Mahdawi – The Guardian
A creepy, condescending magazine profile of the model went viral over the weekend. But it’s far from the first time a famous woman has been slavered over by a pompous man in print
Emily Ratajkowski, a double threat … ‘the most perfect breasts of her generation’ AND she’s heard of Roberto Bolaño. Photograph: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images
Is it possible to have big breasts and read books? It’s a question some of the world’s greatest minds have patiently pondered. When Marilyn Monroe was photographed with a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1955, for example, it sparked a debate about whether she had actually read all those big words.
More recently, the model Emily Ratajkowski’s literary predilections have caused a stir among the chattering classes. “The day I read that she was a fan of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, my brain short-circuited,” wrote the American cultural critic Thomas Chatterton Williams in a 2018 profile of Ratajkowski published in French Marie Claire. “The mere fact that she knew [Bolaño’s] name seemed unbelievable.”
Why am I dredging up a celebrity profile from 2018 when it is 2020 and the world is on fire? The answer, my friends, is in the question. Also: Williams’s interview belatedly went viral over the weekend, and Ratajkowski herself weighed in. The model, who is writing a book of essays about “what it means to be a model and a commodity”, summed up her overall reaction to Williams’s work with an about-to-puke emoji. “I really hope this will be the last of my ‘she has breasts AND claims to read’ profiles/interviews,” she tweeted.
Ah yes, we haven’t got to the breast bit yet. Williams is obsessed with Ratajkowski’s cleavage; he describes her as having the “most perfect breasts of her generation”. He marvels at her articulating an “intelligent response” to a question while wearing an “extraordinarily deep neckline without a bra, all the while seeming to know, deep down, just how absurd and confusing … such an outfit looks with everything she’s saying”. But don’t worry, Williams isn’t entirely distracted by her sexuality, which he describes as “omnipotent and animal”. He generously notes that it “might sound silly to say this … but she seems truly authentic”. The entire profile is a masterclass in creepy condescension.
To be fair, Williams didn’t write the profile alone. The commission was originally given to his wife, Valentine Faure, but she let him fly to Cap d’Antibes and do the interview because, he explains, she thought he’d “enjoy it more”. His wife contributes to the piece but the really awful bits belong to Williams. He can take some solace in the fact that his profile isn’t the worst thing that has ever been written by a pompous man about a famous woman. To give Williams his due, he didn’t compare EmRata to a baby cat, unlike Thomas B Morgan, who described Brigitte Bardot as a “sassy kitten” in a 1960 profile. Or the writer Rich Cohen, who began a 1995 Rolling Stone profile of Alicia Silverstone by describing her as a “kittenish 18-year-old movie star whom lots of men want to sleep with”.
Other classics of the Creepy Interview Dude genre include Stephen Marche’s 2013 Esquire profile of Megan Fox; he describes her as “a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans”. And Art Tavana’s 2016 LA Weekly piece about the musician Sky Ferreira: he likens her to “a freshly licked lollipop” and compares her breasts to Madonna’s “defiantly atomic boobs”.
I could go on; there are gazillions of these examples. However, I think we are all suffering enough. So, to return to the original question: yes, you can read books when you have breasts. But I’m not sure it’s possible for some men to write about women without making complete tits of themselves.
- Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist