Emily Ratajkowski says being a sex symbol is 'empowering' and 'complicated'

Emily Ratajkowski seemingly navigates the spotlight with ease, making headlines with her chic outfits and unapologetic statements about feminism. But the reality is, this fame has come at a cost.

From nuanced misogyny to sexual assault, the 30-year-old model and activist chronicles her life and what it's like to live in a society that both fetishizes and shames female sexuality in her first book, "My Body" (237 pp., out Nov. 9).

"I wanted to offer something that I can't show on my Instagram: the complicated truths behind the power you receive as something to be looked at," Ratajkowski tells USA TODAY.

Despite the glamor of Hollywood, "My Body" explores the dark realities of a career that caters to the male gaze – including misogynistic comments following her "Gone Girl" stardom and abuse of power she's endured from predatory men in Hollywood. "On a good day, I'd call people sexist who condemned a woman for capitalizing on her body. On a bad day, I'd hate myself and my body, and every decision I'd made in my life seemed like a glaring mistake," she writes.

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“My Body,” by Emily Ratajkowski.
“My Body,” by Emily Ratajkowski.

Looking back at her career, Ratajkowski vulnerably reflects on more personal, specific incidents that inflicted trauma and anxiety. She accuses Robin Thicke of groping her bare breasts while shooting the controversial "Blurred Lines" music video and alleges photographer Jonathan Leder of sexually assaulting her during a 2012 shoot in the essay "Buying Myself Back."

She first wrote about Leder in a 2020 essay for New York Magazine's The Cut. At the time, Heather Tynan, editorial director of Leder's Imperial Publishing company, said he "completely denies her outrageous libelous allegations of being ’assaulted'."

USA TODAY has reached out to Thicke and Leder's representatives for comment.

When asked about the decision to write about these encounters, Ratajkowski says it was "personally really clarifying to be able to name the experiences," but admits she felt "pretty down" when outlets leaked the allegations earlier this month.

"I carefully thought about every second of the book and to watch things taken out of context and words put into my mouth, it was discouraging. I felt like, 'Why did I write this book?' " she says.

"It didn't feel like this rewarding moment of, 'Oh wow, I told the truth about my experience.' It felt like, 'Oh, people have made up their minds about something they don't even have access to read the whole thing and that was really discouraging."

Original allegations: Emily Ratajkowski accuses Robin Thicke of groping her breasts while shooting 'Blurred Lines'

Emily Ratajkowski for Harper's Bazaar.
Emily Ratajkowski for Harper's Bazaar.

"My Body" also shares her positive reflections about navigating Hollywood as a woman. In a world where "all women are objectified and sexualized (by men)," she takes pride in the success and empowerment she achieved from selling her image for a living – on her own terms.

"There are so many things and so much power to be gained from becoming a model or woman who uses her sexuality and image to succeed," Ratajkowski adds.

But this revelation wasn't sudden. It took years of self-reflection, questioning and even a new political awakening that required her to reconsider her "really strong political views."

"It was sort of realizing there were things that were incongruent or contradictory about how I felt about a certain situation versus the ideas that I said I really stood behind," says Ratajkowski, who endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential election and, in 2018, was arrested alongside comedian Amy Schumer while protesting controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

"I finally was like, 'OK, obviously you don't feel the way you totally do because look at how you're reacting to this situation or this person.'"

Ratajkowski adds that becoming a mother also provided a new perspective into how scary it can be to sexually develop in today's society. (She and her husband, Sebastian Bear-McClard, welcomed their first child, Sylvester, in March, but initially didn't share their child's gender to impose "as few gender stereotypes … as possible.")

Surprise!: Emily Ratajkowski welcomes 'beautiful' first child with husband Sebastian Bear-McClard

"I do think there's this way that men look at women where it's like, you're a little girl and you're somebody's daughter and then you're a sex object, this hot thing then all of a sudden you're someone’s mother and then you have gray hair and you're not thought of in the same way as when you were younger," Ratajkowski says.

"I think it can be super scary for a lot of women. Just like with everything particularly with women, there's this draw that oversimplifies and puts women into one category or box."

However, she's rejecting this "outdated and linear" narrative and encourages other women to do the same. "I don't want to base my life around how men look at me and view me. I continue to have all the elements about me while also taking on this new identity of motherhood and I feel great about that."

More: Emily Ratajkowski reveals pregnancy, why she isn't announcing baby's gender

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Emily Ratajkowski talks being a sex symbol in new book 'My Body'