Emily Ratajkowski Is Unapologetically Herself

From mastering social media to calling for social change, the outspoken actress and model has always been guided by what felt true to her. And she’s inspiring young women to claim ownership of their own bodies, sexuality, and agency.

Emily Ratakowski

(Image credit: Thomas Whiteside)

It's Oscars weekend in L.A., and Emily Ratajkowski is receiving an award tonight. Hers has nothing to do with the Academy Awards, the grand finale of a complicated awards season that began in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s fall and resulted in the rise of movements from #MeToo to Time’s Up. The University of Southern California is honoring the 27-year-old actress-model with its Inspire Award, given to “an individual of strength, courage, and inspiration,” during its inaugural Inspire festival, and we’re sipping green tea at Pali house in West Hollywood before the ceremony. She looks impeccable, in that effortless way all the cool girls on Insta tend to, wearing a plum Victoria Beckham leather-and-suede jacket, Re/Done jeans, and a Prada crossbody bag. She stands 5'10" in Stuart Weitzman stilettos. I imagined her taller and tell her so.

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Ralph Lauren top, Burberry hat.

(Image credit: Thomas Whiteside)

“Yeah, I’m petite,” Ratajkowski (who’s 5'7" in bare feet) says, comparing herself to other models. “People are always surprised by that.” It’s then that I recognize how much our self-curated feeds lead us to hold tight to our imaginings of others, even when the woman from your feed is sitting next to you. She shows me a photo of a burgundy gown with a cape that Zac Posen is making for her to wear to an Oscars party on Sunday.

No one can take women seriously on any choices that they make, especially if they’re unique to them and they don’t play into the way we think women should get married. It’s a constant writing-off.

“It has a lace corset in it. And we made a matching clutch. It’s insane. I’m excited,” she gushes. “I’ve never gotten to take my man. I can’t say husband. That’s so crazy still. It’s been a week.” Ratajkowski married actor and producer Sebastian Bear-McClard, whose full lips rival his bride’s, on February 23 at City Hall in New York. She wore a mustard-colored Zara suit with a black wide-brimmed hat and veil that had fashion watchers comparing her to Bianca Jagger and Anjelica Huston, and she announced her marriage on Instagram stories. “When you don’t have a real wedding, it’s for you,” Ratajkowski says. “I wore what I wanted to wear. It really felt like the outfit that was most me, and that made me feel good.”

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Balmain sweater, Janessa Leone hat.

(Image credit: Thomas Whiteside)

Initially, she wasn’t planning on making an announcement, but her publicist advised her to get in front of the story. “I actually thought there was a chance that no one would find out,” she says. When I flash her a seriously? look, she laughs. “I am still getting used to fame. I forget, you know.” Then she shares that, like her topless and bikini photos, her wedding post was also met with criticism. “People came after my marriage, like, ‘Wow. I give it three weeks.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ No one can take women seriously on any choices that they make, especially if they’re unique to them and they don’t play into the way we think women should get married. It’s a constant writing-off.”

Ratajkowski’s ability to speak clearly and directly to women—especially young women struggling to find their voice, defend their choices, and own their sexuality and bodies while grappling with the politics of respectability in the age of social media, feminism, and, yes, Trump—has made her an aspirational female figure. She presents this unapologetic air that makes you believe that, yes, you too can feel and look just as in control—of your body, image, and voice.

Boobs are funny...They hurt sometimes, and sometimes they’re the thing that makes me feel the most powerful. They’re a key to my sexuality.

Our conversation feels timely in light of her recent film, I Feel Pretty, a comedy in which she stars opposite Amy Schumer. Schumer plays Renee, a woman who hits her head and wakes up with the confidence of a supermodel, and Ratajkowski is Mallory, a model Renee idealizes for her looks. The trailer’s release sparked controversy among viewers who took issue with the scenario of a woman who looks like Schumer having to suffer brain damage to become confident.

“Renee doesn’t change,” Ratajkowski says. “Unlike in Shallow Hal”—the 2001 comedy that also drew backlash, about a man (Jack Black) who can see only a person’s inner beauty and falls in love with an obese woman (Gwyneth Paltrow)—“she looks the exact same, but she just carries herself differently, and her whole life changes. That’s an interesting concept.”

I Feel Pretty explores our insecurities about our looks and how we constantly compare ourselves to others. The central question is, how do we measure up? Especially in a culture that links a woman’s worth to how close she is to her culture’s ideal. And let’s be honest: Ratajkowski fits neatly into that ideal. It’s partly what led to her breakout in summer 2013, when her image was first imprinted in the pop-culture consciousness with her appearance in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video, in which she wore nothing but a flesh-colored thong, sneakers, and a red lip.

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Ralph Lauren top, Burberry hat.

(Image credit: Thomas Whiteside)

“I felt empowered by her performance in the video,” Schumer tells me. “She was funny and free and proud. I have so much respect for her having complete ownership over her power and identify with not apologizing for our strengths.” Ratajkowski, though, is dismissive of the video, which has been viewed more than a half billion times. “I don’t hate it,” she says. “It’s just, I can’t believe people aren’t over it. I don’t even remember it.”

Well, I do, and I tell her that I immediately felt deep appreciation and envy when I saw her breasts. She laughs, says it’s cool, and reveals that I am not alone. A friend who works for a plastic surgeon told her that patients often come in wanting her breasts. Of course, any interested party would have lots of source material via @emrata, where she flaunts them in and out of her Inamorata Swim line to her 17.3 million followers.

“Boobs are funny,” she says. “They hurt sometimes, and sometimes they’re the thing that makes me feel the most powerful. They’re a key to my sexuality. They’re all those things. I remember there was some article like ‘Emily Ratajkowski Is the Mozart of Breasts.’ What was so bad is someone sent it to my dad, who sent it to me. My dad still sees me as a little kid. I love my boobs. I love other people’s boobs. Boobs are kind of great.”

Here, a few highlights from her June cover interview, on newsstands May 17:

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Proenza Schouler sweatshirt, Salvatore Ferragamo dress, Eva Fehren ring.

(Image credit: Thomas Whiteside)

On being taken seriously in Hollywood:

“It’s actually something I’ve thought about a lot without ever saying seriousness in my head. I care a lot. I think I freak people out sometimes going into meeting with Hollywood producers…with f*cking guns blazing. I had something to prove, and it had very little to do with my acting ability or the way I looked. It was about the Take me seriously. Look me in the eye.”

On what feminism means to her in 2018:

“We grow up in this patriarchal, misogynistic culture, and women fantasize about watching themselves through a male gaze. But if a woman decided that she likes herself in a gaze, and it makes her happy, should she feel the burden of where that comes from? I don’t know the answer. That’s now what feminism is about. It’s freedom of choice. Do what you feel like!”

On her definition of activism:

“I struggle with the label of ‘activist’ because I’m struggling with what activism means in 2018 in general. I want a radical left, and I don’t see it…I was hopeful that with Trump coming into power there would be this drive to radicalize. I’ve seen lot of people, no offense, wearing pink hats and posting it on Instagram and thinking that they’ve done something good for the world, and I just don’t think that’s true.”

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(Image credit: Marie Claire)

Read the full interview and see more photographs in the June issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands May 17.

Lead photo: Chloe top and pants, Jennifer Fisher earrings, Rolex watch

Janet Mock