Emily Ratajkowski: Being ‘sexual or sexualized’ is not the opposite of feminism

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill performing live on the 'Today' show

Emily Ratajkowski covers the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and the interview and photoshoot are new, even if you’re currently getting a deja vu vibe. Emily does tend to do the same photoshoot and interview, over and over. I like her and defend her sometimes, but I’m kind of ready for her to get some new talking points beyond “I’m so oppressed because I’m sexy, sexy is feminist!” She’s not the worst, to be clear, but I’m just ready to hear something else from her. Some highlights from her Bazaar Arabia interview:

Feminism & sexuality: “I think a lot of people really feel that the idea of a woman being sexual or being sexualized is the opposite of feminism. That conversation itself can be oppressive to women, because you’re telling them how to dress and how to act, which is actually the opposite of feminism.”

Politics & the #MeToo conversation: “I don’t think that the difference in a president changes cultural issues because all these things were happening with Harvey [Weinstein] under other political reigns.”

Support for victims of harassment & abuse: “We need to say, ‘I believe you, I believe your experience, your truth and your feelings, about what it means to be a woman.’ We need to take the responsibility off women to change how they have to act and behave.”

On criticism & haters: “I really try and live by the idea that other people’s reactions are not my problem. But there are definitely times I would just love to lay in bed and hide under the covers and wish I didn’t have access to the internet, you know. I have moments of feeling really beaten down by it and misunderstood and misinterpreted. I think if you don’t have haters or if you’re not somewhat controversial, then you’re not standing for anything in general and that’s something I think about a lot. I’d rather be pissing people off than just everyone liking me.”

[From The Evening Standard & The Daily Mail]

Re: feminism and sexiness… I always just feel like shrugging whenever she says sh-t like that, because I agree with her even if I don’t believe it’s one of the top twenty arguments for or about feminism. It’s just sort of “no duh” statement – of course we shouldn’t think that sexy women are un-feminist or whatever. But I’m always shocked by how many people find that kind of statement to be controversial, like Emily can’t call herself a feminist if she’s posting half-naked selfies.

As for #MeToo in the age of Trump… I kind of disagree with that. I think you draw a direct line between the rise of Trump, his disgusting misogyny, his electoral win, the Women’s March and the Sex Predatorgate scandals. All of those things are connected.

GQ Men of the Year Awards, Los Angeles

Cover courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, additional photo courtesy of WENN.

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53 Responses to “Emily Ratajkowski: Being ‘sexual or sexualized’ is not the opposite of feminism”

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  1. HelloSunshine says:

    When I see her picture, I automatically roll my eyes. We get it honey, you’re sexy and that’s hard 🙄 I don’t understand why she continues to get interviews and covers? She never says new

  2. paranormalgirl says:

    There’s a difference between being sexual and being sexualized. One is your choice, the other is something people do to you.

    • Umyeah says:

      Lol same time, same statement, twinning 🙂

    • ichsi says:

      Preach. And as @BaronSamedi says below: a little reflection on the matter “who are you sexy for” would be great. She’s not expressing herself or helping the body image of other women. She’s using pathways in the patriarchy that allow her to be successful. Not more, not less.

      • teacakes says:


        It’s no surprise people like her (and also a lot of men) love choice feminism that just conveniently happens to deliver the male gaze what it wants while simultaneously attempting to frame that as feminism for social awareness points. It’s a big part of why people like Terry Richardson were able to get away with their crimes for as long as they did.

      • Ally says:

        Exactly. Why is this currency for women and not for women? Because that’s the narrow path to social power they’ve been assigned. Submit to the male gaze or be excluded from wealth or opportunity. Participating it is not feminism.

        This schtick of yesterday’s degrading is today’s empowering is BS and it’s only acceptable to push it for women.

      • Otaku Fairy says:

        @Ally: It’s important to remember that to degrade means to lower in value. Referring to immodesty as ‘degrading’ implies that our value is determined by modesty. A huge part of the reason why this form of empowerment isn’t pushed for men is because men aren’t treated the same way for not ‘saving’ their bodies for private relationships. People aren’t as invested in male modesty.

      • Mrs.Krabapple says:

        If society only values you for your sexuality, that is not feminism. Of course feminists can be sexy — but when sexuality is a woman’s ONLY worth, that is sexist. There’s a difference. With this woman, what “worth” does she have beyond her sexual image? Good for her if she makes a living at it, but don’t try to convince society that she is promoting feminism.

    • swak says:

      Thank you. Thinking the same thing.

  3. BaronSamedi says:

    She can post all the half naked selfies in the world and call herself a feminist while doing it!

    What annoys me personally about these statements is that the rest of the sentence is missing/not acknowledged. Who is she posting the sexy half naked selfie for? I don’t for a second believe it is for any of her female followers.

    Her poses and “sexy” clothes are designed for the male gaze and in the end it is very likely all about the male approval she imagines she is getting for letting them drool over her half naked form.

    As a feminist and as someone who believes in personal freedom I have ZERO problem with that. I would just like her and anyone else trying to have this conversation to acknowledge that they are performing their sexual freedom within the constraints of the patriarchy.

    • Heylee says:

      I love your statement. Being sexualized has never been an empowering place for *me* it has always felt like I’m being forced into a role i never agreed to and didn’t design. You can be sexy AF on your own terms and by your own design.

    • Lirko says:

      Gah! Nailed it!

    • Otaku Fairy says:

      The fact that the level of immodesty in a woman’s outfit, photograph, etc. is the only thing that’s looked at to determine whether or not it’s for the male gaze is part of the problem though. When it comes to women’s choices about their bodies, the motives behind them, beliefs, desires, comfort zones, etc. more projection is usually done than listening to women. That’s true about reproductive rights, that’s true about sex a woman says she does or doesn’t want to have, and it’s definitely true on the issue of feminine modesty. People assume that classy/modest/pure is who every woman is at her core, and that the only time a woman strays from those things is when she’s desperate for male attention. The logic seems to be “A woman’s beauty appeals to men, so all immodesty in a woman must be for a man.” That’s no accident in a rape culture women are categorized as either ‘sexually off-limits and respectable’ or ‘sexually available and not respectable’ based on clothing.

      Asexual and homosexual aren’t the only sexual orientations, so of course sometimes women are going to do things to turn on men. Sometimes that will include immodesty, sometimes it won’t. Like you said, no shame either way. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only motive a woman ever has for her clothing choices or posing nude. The most realistic answer for Emily Ratajowski and others is likely that there’s a little bit of everything in her motives.

  4. Umyeah says:

    I think woman can be sexual and a feminist but being sexualized by someone else is completely different.

  5. HoustonGrl says:

    I don’t think the issue is with women being sexy or feeling sexual. For me, the issue I have with the “sexualization” of women is that it continues to be defined by men, her included. In my experience, women tend to have a very different idea about what’s sexy, it’s reflected in films made by women.

  6. HH says:

    The people that say you can’t be sexy and be a feminist are the people that simply refuse to get it. They won’t come around because they don’t want to. Willful ignorance is definitely a thing and you have to know when you see it. Saves a lot of time.

    Also, I don’t think people criticize Emily because she’s sexy or posts sexy photos. As a feminist, I get annoyed because she constantly posts those photos in the name of feminism and women’s empowerment. Girl, if you woke up and were feeling hot that day, go head a post a photo. She has a fantastic figure. However, let’s stop couching it in women’s empowerment. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning. Feminism and women’s empowerment should not simply be used as an umbrella to shield yourself from comments you dislike or as a shield for narcissism.

    • MVC says:

      Yes! She acts like her photoshoots are to empower women.Girl, please…

    • magnoliarose says:

      That is my issue with her. She doesn’t have anything else to say, and I don’t believe every single time she posts it is for feminist reasons. It feels like an excuse to throw out when sometimes she posts just because she wants attention.
      On a personal level her lack of personality and depth makes her seem like she has one angle and after that there is nothing. I prefer my feminists active and dynamic if they are in the public eye.
      My other issue is she doesn’t explain herself, and therefore different young women will say they are feminists when they are truly only seeking the male gaze. She doesn’t differentiate it or go more in-depth about the subject.

  7. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    She’s trying too hard to sound intelligent and smart, and it comes across as…well, I shrugged my shoulders also. She sounds like every other young pretty girl. The smart ones don’t talk about their looks. Her interview actually reminded me of what Marilyn Monroe would say (I read it in her voice lmao. Try it. It’s delicious). A feminist doesn’t need to address her clothing options. Women don’t owe explanations. Period.

    • Malako says:

      I agree and would like to add: Emily Rata MUST talk about her clothing options because otherwise she wouldn’t get any pr.

  8. Beth says:

    I thought she was Kendall Jenner when I first saw the picture.
    There’s definitely a difference between being sexual and being sexualized, just like the big difference between flirting and sexual harassment

  9. OriginalLala says:

    For such a feminist, she rarely talks about anything other than the fact that she is a sexy feminist. We get it. can we move on now?

    • Erinn says:

      This is true. But at the same time – how many of these interviewers are asking her about anything else?

      • OriginalLala says:

        good point – she could use the questions to discuss some of the other issues women face, but chooses to only focus on her struggle as a sexy woman. it’s just so one-note.

      • Erinn says:

        I agree, Lala. I think the smartest thing the woman could do at this point is get heavily involved in some sort of charity or initiative to get girls into school. Get involved with promoting sciences and technology to girls who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity. She doesn’t HAVE to be super intelligent – but if she starts promoting something that is more deep than her current career, it could do wonders. Not just for her, but for others. It would give her more talking points, it would show that she’s not ONLY interested in physical appearance, and it would continue showing that she’s committed to feminist causes outside of letting her look a certain way.

    • Malako says:

      Good point.
      She never talks about acting or movies or aesthetics. She could try to photograph sexy aesthetic-erotic nudes with a good photographer. But nope, she makes a few semi-nudes and nudes and when people call her out she defends herself by saying she were a feminist.

    • Otaku Fairy says:

      She did talk about other things. But as usual, the thing she had to say about how feminism and female sexual immodesty can coexist is the most controversial part of the interview. That part that seems like it should go without saying (I agree with Kaiser. To me it’s just “duh”) will always draw the most attention in any interview she does because of what the dominant messages about immodest women, women’s respectability , and safety are.

  10. ohreally says:

    “That conversation itself can be oppressive to women, because you’re telling them how to dress and how to act, which is actually the opposite of feminism.”

    Um, when she calls herself ‘sexy’, she is pretty much saying “This is what sexy looks like. This is how to BE sexy.” She’s telling us what to wear and how to look in order to appeal to what the male gaze considers sexy. The sexuality of women with different bodies and faces is not celebrated as capital-S Sexy as hers is. And I say that as a conventionally attractive woman. But I would rather see a much wider range of ‘sexy’ in our images, films, advertisements, etc.

    Basically, she doesn’t seem to realize that her images are indeed “telling women how to dress and how to act.” Our media has long encouraged women to look and act just like her! She’s not breaking any new ground and needs to realize that she’s shutting down female conversations in the name of what men like. (I’m a queer woman, but I don’t respond to her images; perhaps others feel differently. But I still feel they are created for men.)

    • Otaku Fairy says:

      Is she really shutting down female conversations though, or is she, as a female of herself, just representing another side of this female conversation? We’re definitely not all on the same side.

      • perplexed says:

        I think a lot of women are under more pressure to look highly sexualized nowadays. It’s a little startling sometimes. I don’t know if it’s because of the Kardashian effect or what, but in some ways, I do think this form of representation does shut out other representation out, simply because I see more women trying to get people notice they’re sexy than ever before. There’s not a lot of individuality going on (well, at least not on Instagram, from what I can tell). I don’t remember this style of undress being this heightened even a decade ago. Nor do I remember people needing this amount of validation and approval for their sexiness.

        If that’s what she’s comfortable with, that’s fine. I suspect Emily R might genuinely be comfortable with the undress of her body not to be bothered by other people’s reactions to her, but I don’t know if everyone is that comfortable. She’s like the opposite side of the coin to Mayim Bialik. They’re both equally annoying in how they dispense with their opinions (the same ones over and over again). They’re both at some extreme end that is difficult to relate to either way. I don’t feel like showing off my bum on Instagram, nor do I feel like dressing I’m from Amish land either.

      • BorderMollie says:

        Interesting to bring up the validation aspect. The advent of social media has made it a constant temptation to seek that approval and the subsequent high it grants. For young, pretty girls the easiest way to that is through exploiting their sexuality. Validation can be addictive, and that’s worrying in any case.

        Another aspect is how we approach media personalities these days. It used to be mostly that we enjoyed their art, now it’s more and more that we seek to emulate them. We buy the products they shill, go to the places they go, even alter ourselves to get their looks. On her own, Emily’s just doing her thing and that’s cool, but there are larger implications, you know?

  11. MVC says:

    You can be sexy and be a feministime but there’s a difference between that and what she does all the time. Doing a video eating spaghetti wearing lengerie is not feminist or empowering to women like she pretends. Not everything a women does (like posing sex for male magazines) is a feminist statement In her case most of the time is pandering.

  12. Malako says:

    Well, originally feminism was invented so that women could earn money outside traditional female-dominated areas like house and kitchen and bedroom. Feminism enabled women to no longer be reduced to their reproductive abilities and be no longer man’s or mens’ playthings.
    Nowadays feminism claims that selling your sex appeal, body or your sexuality (prostitution) isn’t anti-feminist but feminism instead. In my opinion that is uncomfortable.
    As for Emily Rata: lately she doesn’t seem to sell anything but nudes. It seems to me that her acting career didn’t go as planned and that she tries to fuel it with her nudes. I find her acting talents somewhat smallish and I suspect she tries to make up for that by undressing. Admittedly I don’t know why her acting career went flatline as it might be due to lack of talent or lazyness or lack of opportunities (bad luck) or wrong timing for her “type”.
    So nowadays feminism allows you to hide your lack of talent by undressing. Yeah, what an improvement [sarcasm]

    • Otaku Fairy says:

      ” Nowadays feminism claims that selling your sex appeal, body or your sexuality (prostitution) isn’t anti-feminist but feminism instead.” This is a complete strawman. (But not a surprising one from a man whose recent response to Gal Gadot wearing a dress that wasn’t modest was to go on about her needing to remember that she was a married mother, not a cheap prostitute advertising bedroom talents). Feminists supporting a woman’s right to make her own choices about female sexual modesty without being discriminated against for it either way, and not being against sex work, are not the same thing as saying that sexiness and prostitution are feminism. Protecting a woman’s right to be able not have sex and to practice feminine modesty are just as much parts of feminism as a woman’s right to do the opposite of those things.

    • DiligentDiva says:

      Her career in acting can also dry up if you have to many nudes or naked scenes out there. That’s why actresses who are serious about there careers are careful about nudity, if they get known for it then they won’t get parts.
      Not saying it’s right at all, just what I’ve seen.

      • perplexed says:

        I don’t get her Instagram. I’ve seen women pose like that on Instagram, but they’re not “famous” models. They’re usually 20 year olds trying to….I have no idea what they’re trying to accomplish, but I assume it’s something (I’m not being facetious — I assume there has to be a reason, but I’m not part of that world to understand what it is). But when you’re trying to make it in Hollywood in big-time, I have no idea how those selfies are supposed to help. Whenever Jennifer Lawrence poses provocatively for something, it’s usually for some kind of high-profile magazine, and the photo is usually done in a somewhat, er, “artistic”, way.

      • magnoliarose says:

        There is a big difference in what should be fair and the way things are. She has hurt her career with this because it is all she is known for at this point. Fair or not it is what she chooses to put out there.
        Nothing wrong with that but the outcome is not being taken seriously.

  13. Merritt says:

    She gives the same exact interview every single time. They might as well cut and paste them at this point. So boring.

  14. QueenB says:

    As long as sexy has such a narrow definition it is not feminist to be conventionally attractive and get photographed. Seriously. As long as that
    even pays more than real jobs its also not feminist.
    It is literally paying people better for biological factors.

    You can not actively contribute to the terrible body image of most women and call yourself a feminist.
    Someone ask her why traditionally “womens” work is paid less and the only job where women make more than men is when it exlusively revoles abround them looking good.

  15. Unmade_bed says:

    It seems obvious to me that a woman can not be objectified and empowered in any meaningful way at the same time.

  16. Girl_ninja says:

    Is she a Victoria’s Secret angel or something? Where is she from? For awhile I was getting her confused with Btad Coopers partner Irina Shayk. Is she an actor?

    • Jennifer says:

      The only thing I know her from is that Blurred Lines video. I still chuckle when I think of how popular that song was such a short time ago.

    • magnoliarose says:

      She’s a celebrity model I guess. She doesn’t do much.

  17. DiligentDiva says:

    Who even is she and why is she being interviewed? Literally, the only thing I know about her is she was the naked girl in the blurred lines video, and I’m sorry but anyone who was involved with that video shouldn’t be speaking about feminism and rape culture until they apologize for being in that video.

    • Otaku Fairy says:

      Didn’t she already make some statement a few years ago about that? I agree that Blurred Lines wasn’t feminist. But I hold people who write or sing the lyrics of a problematic song more responsible for it than the extras and models who dance in the video.

  18. minx says:

    Someone keeps trying to make her happen.

  19. Veronica says:

    Oh, honey.


  20. perplexed says:

    I think she can call herself a feminist (I don’t doubt she believes in equal rights for men and women). I think people can also find her annoying too. The two don’t have to be incompatible.

  21. Pandy says:

    I was amazed to see her covered up for once! Then realized it is an Arabian publication. Otherwise, she’s such a yaaaawn.

  22. AsIf says:

    she’s yawn, but the question that I’ve got is: if it’s Bazaar Arabia…..why is the cover in english…? is there one edition for all of the Arabic speaking counties so they chose to write it in English? because of the different dialects? (I feel stupid)