Emily Ratajkowski is opening up about the impact of being “sexualized” from a young age, sharing that it has affected her outlook on having a son.
“I wanted a daughter initially, but when I found out I was having a son, I was so relieved,” the 30-year-old model and actress told Elle. “I think that it would bring up— I want more children, so it might be something I deal with later — being sexualized way before puberty and being aware of it.”
The subject is a focus of her upcoming book My Body, where Ratajkowski analyzes her role as a woman and a commodity as a result of her role in Hollywood and the modeling industry. While chatting with the publication, she shared that the ways in which women use their bodies was something that she considered at a young age.
“I have a memory: I did a sexy move down the wall of my parents’ kitchen,” she shared. “I was probably in first grade and my parents were like, ‘Where did you learn that?’ I was like, ‘I fricking learned it. That’s what women do.'”
Ratajkowski explained that she learned early how beauty was closely tied to a woman’s value from her mother, who often spoke of the importance of being beautiful herself. “I think that my mom learned that being beautiful could secure her safety in her relationships and day-to-day interactions,” Ratajkowski recalled. “Understanding where she fell in this ranking system was vital to her survival in some ways. There was this internalized male gaze that she was helping me learn without even maybe realizing it. A lot of growing up and therapy [have] made me realize, holy s***, I don’t need to do this. There’s no winning or losing. But it’s something that I think all young women have to unlearn, or maybe just women in general.”
Still, as the model grew up, she too fell victim to this belief. She even recalled having admiration for women in the spotlight like Britney Spears before being a part of the industry herself and realizing how mistreated even the most beautiful of them really were.
“I was watching these women as they were getting physically more and more destroyed. Watching these covers of [magazines saying] they look like crap. I still thought that they were on top of the world and that they were winning,” Ratajkowski said. “Now we’ve come to understand that these women were tortured and continue to be, but [then] it was: ‘Oh God, they’re messy.’ Which comes from this incredibly misogynistic standpoint.”
In her own experience, Ratajkowski explained that she used her body and beauty as a commodity to gain power in the industry. Now, she’s using her platform to investigate the complexities of women, their bodies and their relationships with men in her new book.
“I don’t want to tell any young girl that she shouldn’t model or try to capitalize on her image or body,” she said. “There is an undeniable power — forget the financial success and fame and all that — but there is just power. People pay attention to you when you get to a certain level. So I was really careful to never say that. But what you see in media, and my own Instagram, is one side, which is beautiful vacations, millions of likes, fancy clothes. And that’s not the complete story.”
As for the power imbalance that remains between men and women, especially within the industry, however, Ratajkowski explained that there are few changes to the way that women are treated and perceived. “I can’t really speak to the last 5 or 10 years because my position has changed. I’m no longer an anonymous model. It’s not something that when you’re 22, you can necessarily be aware of in the same way that you can when you get older,” she said. “I do think some things have changed. But I don’t know that it’s for the right reasons. We live in a culture where people are acting out of fear of consequences, rather than learned respect.”
While raising a child, that difference is one that she has paid close attention to.
“I have a son now, and I’m starting to think about what our instincts are,” she said. “Forget even boy/girl, but just, What are human beings’ instincts? How do you encourage a person to feel confident, to like who they are, while also teaching them about what’s nice and what’s not nice?”