Emily Ratajkowski is famous for looking good naked.
While this is by no means her defining feature as a human being, nor her primary talent, it’s essentially how she became a one-woman social media phenomenon.
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If you didn’t know about the 24-year-old model before today, her celebrity status is set to rise meteorically after she appeared alongside Kim Kardashian in one of the reality star’s notorious nude selfies this week.
Nonchalantly baring their breasts while flipping the bird, the voluptuous duo grabbed headlines – and haters – for their eye-catching statement.
But while Ratajkowski’s celebrity peers – like Kardashian, Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton – have gained attention from leaked photos and sex tapes shared against their will, Ratajkowski’s own exposure has been controlled, considered and entirely intentional.
Ratajkowski enjoyed a free-spirited childhood out of the spotlight in California, the only child of an English professor and an artist, parents whose relaxed views of sexuality she credits with shaping her own body confidence.
After signing as a model at the age of 15, Ratajkowski did catalogue work and scored a stint on the Disney channel series iCarly.
However, Ratajkowski really hit her stride – and the publicity jackpot – when she started stripping off.
She made her nude debut as a 20-year-old, completely naked on the March 2012 cover of erotic magazine Treats!.
While most parents would balk at this, according to Ratajkowski her father’s reaction to the revealing photos was to simply send her a congratulatory text message.
“I just saw the photos and you’re as beautiful a model as you were as a five-year-old,” it read.
Since then, Ratajkowski has scored several high-profile campaigns, roles in major feature movies like Gone Girl and Entourage and 5.5 million Instagram followers.
For many, she is most recognisable for appearing in the music video for Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s hit 2013 single, Blurred Lines.
The uncensored video, which featured a topless Ratajowski playfully cavorting with two other models, simultaneously became one of the most-watched videos of all time and a symbol of rape culture. Ratajkowski has since described it as “the bane of my existence”.
What makes the striking brunette stand out is her decision to take the classic domain of the bikini model to a new level.
She presents her perfectly toned abdomen and envy-inducing curves as not just a product for your voyeuristic enjoyment but a political battleground.
This unique approach kicked off somewhat accidentally when she was made the unwilling spokesperson for the furore surrounding Blurred Lines and culminated in an essay for Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny in February.
In the piece titled ‘Baby Woman’, Ratajkowski eloquently detailed the ongoing sexualisation of her own body by others, beginning at the tender age of 12.
“Growing up, my father would lovingly refer to me as a ‘baby woman’,” she explained. “And that’s what I was: a 12-year-old with D-cup breasts who still woke up in the night and asked her mom to come and sleep in her room.
“When I was 15, the adults in my life were concerned by my modeling 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.”
Ratajkowski’s main contention was that she be allowed to present herself as she wishes, rather than being governed by other people’s reactions to her sexuality.
She thinks if you take issue with one of her many revealing Instagram snaps, that’s your problem, not hers.
Of course, Ratajkowski is more than just her perfectly proportioned body. She’s an outspoken advocate for women’s health, partnering with Planned Parenthood to promote safe sex, and has actively campaigned for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
She’s also an artist with an impressive personal collection who studied at UCLA before turning to full-time modelling.
Future projects include a role on Netflix original comedy series Easy and a starring role in upcoming 1980s romance flick Cruise.
Until then, she’ll continue to fight for her right to unapologetically show off her genetic blessings – a convoluted battle perhaps best explained by Ratajkowski herself.
“Honoring our sexuality as women is a messy, messy business,” she declared in Lenny, “but if we don’t try, what do we become?”