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The Female Image

A consideration of Emily Ratajkowski’s essay for Harper’s Bazaar…

Model, actor and activist, Emily Ratajkowski is no stranger to the discussion of feminism and body positivity, despite receiving controversial opinions. In her 2019 essay for Harper Bazaar, Ratajkowski writes a personal account of her experience of being a woman in an ever-changing society that fears ‘the innate power that female sexuality possesses’ and intends to shame women that ‘flaunt or embrace [their] sexuality’. 

     Like Ratajkowski, since moving to university, I have found my understanding of gender to be completely reconstructed, unveiling a much wider picture. I often thought I was a feminist, however, registering myself for gender classes revealed my knowledge to be insufficient. I have since been submerged in a variety of feminist literature that attempt to dismantle the historic impact of misogynistic culture that has shamed women into being considered ‘untrustworthy [and] threatening’ (Ratajkowski).

     Understanding my position of complete privilege, at first, I found it difficult to locate these struggles in my own experience as a woman. Upon deeper thought, I see how I have often mistaken fear and skepticism at the female body, for intrigue. One statement rings true; the world is scared of powerful women. When ‘powerful’ is read as ‘unapologetic’, this fear becomes a much more striking statement directed at female sexuality.

     I see this most clearly in the prolonged regulation of image that I once used to consider ‘normal school rules’: “your skirt must be below the knee”. But no one ever stopped to question why it needed to be that way. At age 11, who were we to disagree? Whether it was a bare shoulder, or a bare knee, too much makeup, hair tied back, there was always something to criticise or censor.  I vividly remember the mad rush post-school as my friends and I would turn our skirts up, one of us providing the lipstick, the other, mascara. These were parts of our feminine identity, things that we liked, that we kept hidden until we felt we were no longer being monitored – but no one ever stopped to consider why these things were deemed unacceptable. 

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     As I’ve grown up, a question raised by Ratajkowski rings true, ‘Why as a culture, do we insist on separating smart and serious from sexy?’; an institutionalised, larger-scale model of the school uniform issue. As a 20 year old woman, I face the same confusion as I did when I was in secondary school; why do we always have to be so wary of our femininity? Why do wearing mini skirts, foregoing a bra, having body hair or shaving it off, matter? Why are we shamed for expressing ourselves through makeup and clothes (or lack thereof) if these choices are our own? 

image: blauth434 via Pixabay