In brief

  • Model Emily Ratajkowski wants to reclaim power over her digital identity.
  • She's selling an NFT, a cryptocurrency token that gives her a cut of each resale.

Model Emily Ratajkowski has sold her body to photographers for 15 years. Now she wants to buy back control over her image, which has been gawked at by billions online, from Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” music video to Instagram to racy Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue pictures. 

So what better way for the 29-year-old to wrestle back power over her digital identity than to sell a picture of one of her most famous pictures to the highest bidder at a Christie's auction next month? 

And not just any kind of picture—an NFT or non-fungible token, a crypto asset linked to an immutable, ineffaceable JPG, over which she has no control once she transfers the rights over the token to its new owner. 

But hear her out. For Ratajkowski, NFTs are a promising feminist technology, through which she “hope[s] to symbolically set a precedent for women and ownership online, one that allows for women to have ongoing authority over their image and to receive rightful compensation for its usage and distribution.”

Ratajkowski’s picture of a picture of a picture of a picture

Her NFT is a picture of herself in front of a printout of one of her most famous pictures.

In 2014, Ratajkowski discovered that artist Richard Prince had turned an Instagram post of a nude photograph into a canvas, and then exhibited it at a show in New York. Ratajkowski was shocked, especially when she learned that someone had bought that canvas for $80,000. 

So Prince offered Ratajkowski another printout, this time an Instagram post from a Sports Illustrated photo shoot. She bought it, and the photo now hangs in her home in Los Angeles. A photo of Ratajkowski in front of that canvas is what’s up for sale as an NFT.

Ratajkowski’s idea is that she can reclaim authority over the photo. Because she minted the NFT, ownership of that digital asset can be traced back to her, no matter who owns it. What’s more, she receives a cut of every secondary sale.

“The digital terrain should be a place where women can share their likeness as they choose, controlling the usage of their image and receiving whatever potential capital attached,” she tweeted Friday.

Ratajkowski has written about feeling powerless about how her images are disseminated online. In 2014, nude pictures of her were widely shared online as part of a major leak of celebrities' private photos. 

In 2016, Ratajkowski expressed concern about a publication of a book that contained suggestive photos that Jonathan Leder had taken in a 2012 photo shoot for Darius magazine. Ratajkowski alleged in an essay for New York magazine last year that Leder sexually assaulted her following the shoot and that she never gave him permission to publish the photos elsewhere.

Ratajkowski’s feminist mission may be at odds with the principles of the blockchain, which champion economic freedom above all else. The new owner of Ratajkowski’s digital likeness is entitled to do with the images whatever they please. 

The NFT’s new owner might, for instance, do exactly that which Ratajkowski wants her NFT to render obsolete: “exploit and distribute images of women’s bodies without their consent and for another’s profit.” 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to provide more background on Ratajkowski's specific concerns about consent.