Emily Ratajkowski, The Naked Feminist

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 10: Actress/Model Emily Ratajkowski's celebrates her 25th birthday at the private residence of Absolut Elyx CEO Jonas Tahlin on June 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Absolut Elyx)

It’s hard to pin down Emily Ratajkowski.  An independent-minded young woman with the body of a goddess, she has generated massive controversy over her penchant for posing nude or nearly so in magazines and social media.  While in the process of establishing herself as a serious actress in the 2014 David Fincher thriller Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck, Entourage [2015], and We Are Your Friends [2015], with Zac Efron, the London-born, California-raised Ratajkowki has maintained a parallel presence as a revisionist feminist model anxious to celebrate her cleavage at every opportunity.

And why not?  A strong case could be made that she possesses the best breasts in show business and flaunting those assets has already won her over 15 million Instagram followers as well as two major campaigns as brand ambassador for DKNY and Kérestase hair care products.

Cultivating a reputation as one of the sexiest women alive, whose appearance in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” music video [500 million views and counting] turned her into an instant YouTube sensation, Ratajkowski has adopted a Kardashian-like approach to mass Selfie-exposure and parlayed that into a burgeoning film career.  This summer sees the Polish-American provocatrice co-star in two films – I Feel Pretty opposite Michelle Williams and Amy Schumer, and Welcome Home, a thriller set in Tuscany in which she shares top billing with Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul.  Is this the Year of the Rat(ajkowski)?

“That’s basically my strategy,” said Ratajkowski. “I’m so grateful I have modelling and so many other things that I’m doing – because if I didn’t have other ways of making money, I’d be like, ‘OK, I guess I’m doing the bathing-suit-girl role.’ You really have to prove yourself in this industry and I’m very much up for the challenge. It takes a really long time to not only prove yourself, but also prove that you’re more dynamic than just this one part of you that they see.”

She’s also had to confront the contradiction that comes with having rocketed to fame on the basis of her physical charms yet wanting to be taken seriously as an actress.  Ratajkowski has turned down numerous projects that are purely exploitative of her beauty but at the same time directors and casting agents have rejected her because her looks would be too distracting.  Sighed Emily:

“There’s this thing that happens to me: ‘Oh, she’s too sexy’. It’s like an anti-woman thing, people don’t want to work with me because my boobs are too big.”

“What’s wrong with boobs? They’re a beautiful, feminine thing that needs to be celebrated. Like, who cares?…They are great big, they are great small. Why should that be an issue?”

During the past year she’s effectively proclaimed herself a naked feminist warrior by asserting that a woman’s embrace of her body—nude or otherwise—is an act of empowerment.  It takes a certain amount of gumption or ballsiness on the part of Ratajkowski to chart such a course in the current age of manic political correctness.

She opens herself up to accusations of reckless self-promotion and self-exploitation from women’s movement hard-liners, while also inviting ridicule from media pundits such as the curmudgeonly Piers Morgan who labelled her a “global bimbo” after she appeared in a LOVE Magazine video clad in her undies and lathered in pasta and olive oil. Cons counters that kind of criticism as “sexist” and “stigmatizing,” arguing that there shouldn’t be any limits to a woman’s right to (sexual) self-expression.

“I think a lot of people really feel that the idea of a woman being sexual or being sexualized is the opposite of feminism,” declared Ratajkowski.

“To start saying that certain people need to have a license to be feminist is insane. Emma Watson said feminism isn’t some kind of tool to beat other women with, it’s supposed to be a freedom of choice.”

“And I believe in sexuality. I think it’s a wonderful thing and, if anything, I want women to understand their own sexuality outside of a patriarchal male gaze. We’re the core of sexual beings, and I think that’s something that should be celebrated rather than attacked.”

Certainly, Canadian psychology professor and trailblazing libertarian intellectual Jordan Peterson would defend Emily’s right to brandish her boobs any way she deems fit.  “Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being.”

This is precisely Ratajkowski’s leitmotiv for living:  “From the beginning, when I didn’t have as much popularity, I made the decision to be as honest as I could about who I am and what I believe, and I have never apologized for that.”

Rachel Murray / Stringer

“I could have been like, ‘I’ll never post a sexy selfie again because I want people to take me seriously as an actress,’ or I could have said, ‘I’ll never talk on political issues because I want people to see me as this sex symbol,’ or whatever.”

Instead, Emily has doubled down on her right to project herself into the feminist landscape by arguing that beauty and ownership of one’s boobs and buttocks is—via naked photo shoots, selfies, or nude sex scenes in movies—can also be understood as vital acts of female empowerment.

Emily wonders why a woman can’t take a specific example of constant female objectification—boobs—and take Amazonian charge of one’s sexual identity.  If we take her at her word and not try to take cheap shots at her omnipresent nude photomontage, why shouldn’t we embrace her as a young woman who is deliberating exploiting her beauty and undercutting feminist orthodoxy at the same time.

“It really bothers me that people are so offended by breasts,” said Ratajkowski. “That’s when I realized how f—ed our culture is. When we see breasts, we don’t think of beauty and femininity. We think of vulgar, over-sexualized images.”

She added: “Any expression that is empowered and is your own as a woman is feminist. If a woman decides to dress sexy, it doesn’t mean she’s not a feminist. [We] should be doing things for ourselves. If that is the woman’s choice, and it makes her feel good, then that’s great. Good for her.”

Ratajkowski is anything but a naive ingénue looking to Instagram her way to the top.  She’s very much aware that weaponising her body is risky business and has led many people to be both skeptical and dismissive, consigning her to the Kardashian heap of sublime superficiality.  Emily admits that her greatest fear is that her attention-grabbing nudism will ultimately prove self-defeating.

She worries about “not making anything of life and not doing anything that’s important…I’m really scared of that. Especially because I chose this as my career, this superficial thing.”

After being born in London in 1991 to American parents—her father, John Ratajkowski,  is an artist, while her mother, Kathleen Balgley, is a university professor—Emily’s family relocated to San Diego when she was five.  She still counts London as one of her favourite cities however and returns often to indulge her taste in theatre.

“I think London was the first time I ever fell in love with theatre,” she recalled., “My mum was teaching there and she got inexpensive tickets. Every Friday, instead of going to the movies, my parents would take me to Les Misérables or Cats, or one of the other [musicals or] plays in the early ’90s that were very popular.”

She loved to draw as a child and was encouraged by her father to pursue her artistic sensibilities until her stunning adolescent beauty landed her a contract with Ford Models at age 14.  Four years later, she enrolled at UCLA where she studied art history before dropping out after her third semester to concentrate on her burgeoning modelling career.  Yet she continues to collect art and has amassed an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures by up-and-coming American artists in her Los Angeles loft.  (She recently broke up with boyfriend Jeff Magid).

Emily recalled that as a young woman she was constantly being pursued by men and grew uncomfortable with the attention and relentless stares and pick-up lines:

“It was really difficult for me to understand and to come to terms with—that identity, people’s perception of me… It’s hard for a 12-year-old girl, who is basically feeling like,’Why don’t you just leave me alone’, because I don’t see men having to justify what they wear or how they express themselves.”

“She [her mother] told me, ‘wear whatever you want, do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter, that’s just your body and that’s who you are so it’s not your issue.’ There was an acceptance there.”

This year it will be interesting to see whether Ratajkowski’s mass appeal will translate into a sustainable Hollywood career.  She’s had a difficult time following up her work in Gone Girl and We Are Your Friends with anything remotely interesting since.  But working opposite Michelle Williams and Amy Schumer in I Feel Pretty has been a “big step forward” and could trigger similar studio projects down the road.  In the meantime, she intends to continue teetering on the edge of controversy while remaining true to her brash self:  Said Emily:

“People try to put women in boxes and stereotype them as one thing. There’s a need, even as a woman, to become a certain “type” of girl. But I feel extremely multifaceted.

“One moment I can be super-silly with my friends, and the next minute I feel like the sexiest woman in the world. And that to me doesn’t change what my core ideals are, or what I have to say. Just because someone can be sexual doesn’t mean they can’t be serious!”

by Jan Janssen

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