Emily Ratajkowski's Essay About Owning Her Sexuality Gives The "Blurred Lines" Music Video New Meaning
I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked about Robin Thicke and the controversy he stirred up with his ridiculously problematic song “Blurred Lines,” but, guys, we gotta go back there for a minute. Because one of the women who was featured in the video, Emily Ratajkowski, opened up in a Lenny Letter essay about the criticism she has received throughout her career for embracing her sexuality, and I want to be really clear about the line our society needs to draw in the sand about this. I can wave my protest signs with the best of them about Robin Thicke’s song and how it so blatantly supports the rape culture in this country. ("I know you want it"?) But I cannot then turn that vehemence into anger at Ratajkowski for appearing in the video. No woman should ever be shamed for owning her sexuality, especially in a way that empowers her. Not ever. And Ratajkowski speaks perfectly to that point.
In the essay, Ratajkowski writes honestly about the experience of being hyper-sexualized from a young age. As a girl who developed early, both physically and emotionally, her younger years were a constant minefield of other people singling her out as a sexual being, long before she herself had embraced or defined her sexuality for herself. But, as Ratajkowski so perfectly says, the implication in all of the messages she received from people who seemed to be “concerned,” was that, “being sexy mean[t] playing into men's desires.” But Ratajkowski turns that assumption on its head: “To me, ‘sexy’ is a kind of beauty, a kind of self-expression, one that is to be celebrated, one that is wonderfully female. Why does the implication have to be that sex is a thing men get to take from women and women give up?”
Her point hits the nail on the head, especially when you consider the criticism that Ratajkowski faced for her nude appearance in Robin Thicke’s video. A video, by the way, that was directed by a woman whose intention it was to turn the misogynistic lyrics on their head. Director Diane Martel spoke exclusively to Grantland about the video, and how she “wanted to deal with the misogynist, funny lyrics in a way where the girls were going to overpower the men. Look at Emily Ratajkowski’s performance,” Martel says, “it’s very, very funny and subtly ridiculing.”
Talk about taking ownership over your body and turning it into a message of power. The video’s intent is to show these women embracing their sexuality, and yet that very message was lost on critics around the world.
Listen, context matters. And when we talk about how women are portrayed in the media, an instance of a woman’s body being exploited for money may not and should not sit that well with us — especially if that exploitation was in any way coerced or came at the cost of the woman’s dignity or values. But that is not what happened in the "Blurred Lines" video. This video did the opposite of what the song lyrics suggested: It showed these women taking control of their bodies and owning their sexuality. And the fact that Ratajkowski got any hate for appearing in a video in which she clearly is embracing her body and using it in a way that is empowering to her is completely not OK.
As Ratajkowski says, “honoring our sexuality as women is a messy, messy business,” one that causes controversy and outrage on the regular. But criticizing a woman for attempting to celebrate her body and her sexuality in a way that is empowering to her is unacceptable, always. As a woman, and as a feminist, I’m thankful to Ratajkowski for expressing that so articulately.