Emily Ratajkowski has written a powerful essay slamming the sexual shaming of women and calling for women to define their sexuality in their own terms.
In the essay, which is titled Baby Woman and published in Lena Dunham’s feminist newsletter Lenny, Ratajkowski outlines her own experiences of sexual shaming from the age of 13 to present in anecdotes through growing up and becoming a model at a young age.
From being criticised for wearing what she wanted at 13, to getting “looks from men” (because that’s all her fault) and being told “you need to hide out, a girl like you, keep a low profile” by ‘concerned’ family friends, Ratajkowski has been exposed to more than her fair share of sexual shaming.
She writes: “When I was 15, the adults in my life were concerned by my modelling at such a young age. They’d heard the horror stories of creepy middle-aged men taking advantage of young women, or agents pressuring girls to lose weight.”
“Surprisingly enough, dealing with the world outside the industry was the toughest part of my adolescence and young adulthood. Teachers, friends, adults, boyfriends — individuals who were not as regulated as those in the highly scrutinized fashion world were more often the ones to make me feel uncomfortable or guilty about my developing sexuality.”
She argues that being in the fashion environment actually felt safer – it’s the criticism of friends and family that have had the biggest impact on her – and ends the essay saying that women need to decide themselves what can be defined as “sexy” and how far to take it, claiming ownership of their own sexuality for once and for all.
“To me, ‘sexy’ is a kind of beauty, a kind of self-expression, one that is to be celebrated, one that is wonderfully female,” she writes. “Why does the implication have to be that sex is a thing men get to take from women and women give up?”
Before including one more anecdote of an art professor unable to accept an image of a woman outside very obvious stereotypes, Ratajkowski concludes: “I refuse to live in this world of shame and silent apologies. Life cannot be dictated by the perceptions of others, and I wish the world had made it clear to me that people’s reactions to my sexuality were not my problems, they were theirs.”
This isn’t the first thing Ratajkowski’s had to say on the topic of gender and women’s sexuality. In a recent New York Times interview she responded heatedly to comments that women like her publicly support Democratic Senator Bernie Saunders’ campaign only to connect with members of the opposite sex, stating: “It is too bad that feminism hasn’t progressed to the extent that women can support other women not based on gender or race, but because of ideas… It’s incredibly frustrating that society somehow feels that women can’t manage to be political, feminist and a sex symbol.”
You can read Emily Ratajkowski: Baby Woman in full here.