A con­ver­sa­tion with model, ac­tress, ac­tivist – and GQ’S In­ter­na­tional Woman of the Year – Emily Rata­jkowski.

There is a pre­sump­tion that we al­ready know ev­ery­thing about Emily Rata­jkowski. Those cameo film roles, that lusted-after pout and fig­ure, those bikini shots, that mu­sic video. And, sure, it’s all true. But if there is one thing we can thank the cur­rent US pres­i­dent for, it’s the les­son that it’s best not to be­lieve ev­ery­thing you read – to in­stead seek out the full story. For Rata­jkowski, the story took a turn on Oc­to­ber 4, last year, when the 27-year-old was ar­rested in Wash­ing­ton DC. She was charged not with be­ing too beau­ti­ful – il­le­gally at­trac­tive, as some news out­lets might have had you be­lieve – but for mak­ing a stand. Along­side Amy Schumer and thou­sands more, Rata­jkowski was protest­ing the im­pend­ing ap­point­ment of Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh, a man ac­cused of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a num­ber of women, in­clud­ing Chris­tine Blasey Ford while the two were in high school. At a time when it felt the tide was turn­ing against men who had abused their sta­tus, power and fame to vic­timise oth­ers, Ka­vanaugh’s rise to the high­est court in the United States of Amer­ica, felt like a rare set­back. And yet, so much of the sub­se­quent cov­er­age of the group’s protest cen­tred not on ques­tions of guilt or in­no­cence or even on Ka­vanaugh at all, but on whether or not Rata­jkowski had been wear­ing a bra at the time. Clearly, it seems, there is still progress to be made. To­day, the sun is set­ting on a spring day in Syd­ney. The time has just passed seven in the evening and we’re in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion be­neath a blos­som­ing jacaranda tree. “It’s my first time in Aus­tralia and we’re fully off-road­ing,” smiles Rata­jkowski as the car re­verses up a 45o an­gle, our driver’s mild panic re­flected in her avi­a­tors. “I feel like I have a con­nec­tion here,” she says, reel­ing off a few close ties she has to the coun­try, un­phased by our predica­ment. Some of said ties will be present the fol­low­ing night to see her an­nounced as GQ’S In­ter­na­tional Woman of the Year. That is, if we make it there.

GQ: Your mother is a pro­fes­sor of English and your fa­ther’s a painter. Have you al­ways been cre­ative?

Emily Rata­jkowski: Yeah it’s in my DNA for sure. I know there are peo­ple who aren’t that way, but I can’t even imag­ine what that would be like. To me, I feel like ev­ery­one’s try­ing to be cre­ative all the time. Whether it’s in their busi­ness or their job.

GQ: How did you chan­nel your cre­ativ­ity?

ER: When I started out it was a strug­gle be­cause I was go­ing to school for vis­ual art at UCLA and then I left. It was 2009, the mar­ket had crashed and all my friends were mov­ing home. I was just like, why would I be go­ing to school for art right now? So, I left and was just re­ally fo­cused on mak­ing money. I al­ways loved act­ing but mod­el­ling was the thing that was pay­ing the bills. Things ex­panded re­ally quickly and I was lucky. In fash­ion, you have mo­ments where you work with peo­ple who are ex­tremely cre­ative and it feels like a col­lab­o­ra­tion – like you’re be­ing a dancer in a lot of ways.

GQ: And can you still be your­self?

ER: You have to fac­tor in the im­age you’re emot­ing but there was def­i­nitely a point where I was like, OK I’m not com­pletely ful­filled by this. That’s when In­sta­gram came into my life. I loved col­lage when I was at school and it felt like I was build­ing a lit­tle book. That was like an on­line vis­ual jour­nal. I’ve ob­vi­ously grown up a lot since and also re­alised how much be­ing cre­ative is im­por­tant to me as well as be­ing in con­trol.

GQ: What about act­ing?

ER: Act­ing’s amaz­ing but you are a small piece in a much larger vi­sion and you’re not con­trol­ling it. So, I’ve started to re­ally work on de­vel­op­ing my own projects and be­ing the di­rec­tor. And def­i­nitely, hav­ing my own swimwear com­pany has been an in­cred­i­ble way to do that. You’re de­sign­ing but you’re also build­ing a brand, which is su­per­cre­ative. As I’ve got­ten older, I’ve found more av­enues to be cre­ative.

GQ: Is it pos­si­ble to be em­body sex­ual power through cre­ativ­ity?

ER: The selfie and mak­ing images of your­self is a re­ally in­ter­est­ing thing for a woman to do be­cause there haven’t been that many op­por­tu­ni­ties to do that in our his­tory. That’s why there were in­cred­i­ble fe­male artists from the ’60s chang­ing the way they looked and tak­ing por­traits. That was a part of the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion. Now it’s so easy to point tak­ing self por­traits to­wards nar­cis­sism. But as women, it’s amaz­ing to be able to con­trol and dic­tate your own im­age. It’s ac­tu­ally kind of lib­er­at­ing.

“like ev­ery rev­o­lu­tion, there has to be some­one who makes it look cool.”

GQ: How does so­cial me­dia play into be­ing a role model?

ER: Good ques­tion. There’s a weird thing where, if I started think­ing about what any­one could in­ter­pret from any­thing I post, what I share would stop be­ing in­ter­est­ing. So in­stead, I just try to stay true to who I am and lead by ex­am­ple. It’s about trust­ing my own fil­ter.

GQ: On so­cial me­dia, we fol­low who we want to fol­low, to the point there’s a dan­ger we find our­selves in a bit of a bub­ble.

ER: To­tally. I mean, yeah, all the peo­ple I fol­low are left or mod­er­ately left peo­ple. So, my po­lit­i­cal cir­cle is small. But there’s that say­ing of the peo­ple you spend time with, you end up im­i­tat­ing. I don’t think it’s nec­es­sar­ily bad to cu­rate what your in­take is. That be­ing said, I’d hate to throw my par­ents un­der the bus but my mum will share an ar­ti­cle on Face­book and I have to call her and be like, that ar­ti­cle’s not true. And she’s like, re­ally? It’s one of those things where I know it’s not but how do I even prove that any­more? Be­cause there’s 20 other off­shoot ar­ti­cles about that ar­ti­cle that ref­er­ence it and there’s no check­ing.

GQ: Hence how fake news spreads.

ER: True, but hon­estly, as much as fake news is a scary thing, we used to have to rely on very, very spe­cific sources. The in­ter­net is so demo­cratic in that way and I love that – what an amaz­ing tool for us. I’m re­ally grate­ful to live in an era where that kind of vot­ing sys­tem is go­ing on. When I think about how my par­ents are get­ting in­for­ma­tion or how I’m get­ting in­for­ma­tion, or how my kids will get in­for­ma­tion, I’m blown away. Power of the peo­ple ba­si­cally, is how I feel.

GQ: On that note, will 2018 go down as a sem­i­nal year for the fight to­wards gen­der equal­ity?

ER: I mean, after Trump got elected, there were a lot of US peo­ple who just gave up. And that was to­tally fair. I felt that way too. Now, there’s anger and in re­sponse to that, there’s or­gan­i­sa­tion. And that is ex­cit­ing, we’re at the tip of what needs to hap­pen. I’m happy to see my friends are not feel­ing as dis­en­fran­chised as they did when Trump got elected. Or even, hon­estly, when Hi­lary was the nom­i­nee – no one was re­ally en­gaged or ex­cited. So, it’s re­ally changed.

GQ: Fol­low­ing the mid-term elec­tion, is there a re­newed be­lief in US pol­i­tics?

ER: Yes, I think so. Be­yond vot­ing day, there’s so much work that can be done. There’s this thing about call­ing your se­na­tor and I re­ally hate that. Why should I call a white man in an of­fice who’s not go­ing to lis­ten to me. Even go­ing down to DC, I’ve been a cou­ple times rel­a­tively re­cently and there’s a lot of things that are hap­pen­ing be­hind closed doors. It’s good for the Amer­i­can peo­ple to be aware of that – that’s not part of the Amer­i­can dream, but it’s the re­al­ity of our gov­ern­ment. So, anger’s good and not trust­ing the sys­tem is good. I’d like to see more of that.

GQ: On that note, the march you were a part of and your ar­rest – was that anger?

ER: Yeah, I mean it was a weird one. I’m fig­ur­ing it all out. I don’t know what’s rad­i­cal and what’s anger. I got so much heat for post­ing about it. But what the fuck would have been the point of me be­ing there if I wasn’t go­ing to share it with peo­ple? A lot of peo­ple that maybe didn’t know about Brett Ka­vanaugh or would never think of show­ing up at a protest – maybe they’ll con­sider it now. And that’s cool be­cause like the ’60s rev­o­lu­tion, they were rock stars. There were ac­tivists who were sexy. That’s the least im­por­tant thing about them, but like ev­ery rev­o­lu­tion, there has to be some­one who makes it look cool. When I started go­ing to these things way back when, it was like some punk kids and a lot of old peo­ple. There needs to be an in­vig­o­ra­tion, this stuff af­fects ev­ery­one so it’s cool to be en­gaged.

GQ: Why is the younger gen­er­a­tion so much more en­gaged these days?

ER: It’s when the in­ter­net came into their lives. I al­ways think back to when I got Mys­pace aged 14. I didn’t have it in el­e­men­tary school but I had it in ado­les­cence. That was a spe­cific ex­pe­ri­ence and I feel like these kids, they’ve mas­tered those tools.

GQ: It’s been a decade since Obama came into power.

ER: Yeah, that’s crazy. God, that makes me feel old. It was my first elec­tion I voted in.

GQ: How has the past 10 years shaped you?

ER: I could go in so many di­rec­tions with this ques­tion be­cause there’s so many things I’ve seen change. But, think­ing about it, I go back to my grand­fa­ther be­cause his life felt in­sane. He was born be­fore World War I in 1912. He lived through World War II and then the Cold War and saw in­sane change in his chil­dren’s cul­ture from what he was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing with his par­ents. Ev­ery­one acts like things are so crazy right now and I’m like, I don’t know man, he lived to be 103. Things have been pretty crazy for a long time. Yes they’re ac­cel­er­at­ing, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.

GQ: Do you know much about your fam­ily her­itage?

ER: Yeah, it’s kind of an amaz­ing story. My mum’s fin­ish­ing a book about it all. My grand­fa­ther was never go­ing to re­turn to Poland but then she de­cided to do her th­e­sis there and learn the lan­guage. She taught there for three years. And he ac­tu­ally came back to see her. So it’s sort of like this weird mem­oir but mem­oir isn’t the right word. It’s all these pieces of his life and her time there, which was re­ally spe­cific, right be­fore the Wall fell. Teach­ing English lit­er­a­ture and teach­ing the US’S dark his­tory there, kids re­acted when there were par­al­lels drawn to Ju­daism and the plight of Jews in Poland. It’s def­i­nitely a part of who I am. My dad on the other hand, couldn’t care less about his roots. I don’t re­ally get that but it’s funny to have those two sides.

GQ: How’s mar­ried life been the past year?

ER: It’s great. I mean, I’m in love, but I don’t think life re­ally changes un­til you have kids. Se­bas­tian’s par­ents were never mar­ried. My par­ents got mar­ried when my mom was preg­nant with me. She wore a brown dress, in the back­yard of a chapel. Mar­riage, for us, was maybe not how the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion thinks of mar­riage. But, it’s fun, it’s a re­ally amaz­ing way to com­mit your­self to some­one.

GQ: Your hus­band is a film pro­ducer.

ER: Yes, his mum is also a film­maker and writer and his dad is a painter. And he’s an only child. So, clearly we’re a type.

GQ: Do you dis­cuss the pros and cons of be­ing an only child?

ER: Yes, I mean the pros are form­ing amaz­ing re­la­tion­ships with your par­ents. We started be­ing friends from very young. Cons, as you get older it’s all on you to be re­spon­si­ble for your par­ents, which is also why it’s help­ful to be to­gether in it.

GQ: Western cul­tures are quite bad at pri­ori­tis­ing par­ents as they get old.

ER: They re­ally are. Trust me, this con­ver­sa­tion stresses me out be­cause I re­ally don’t know the an­swer. Part of me is like, of course all they’d want is for me to do the most. And then the other part of me is like, what else is life for if I’m not go­ing to spend time with them, all the time. It’s dif­fi­cult, that bal­ance.

GQ: You starred in Amy Schumer’s film I Feel Pretty. It was about fe­male con­fi­dence and in­se­cu­ri­ties. Why aren’t there films about men’s in­se­cu­ri­ties?

ER: I al­ways say for all the things that women have that con­fine them cul­tur­ally and with gen­der roles, men have just as many. His­tor­i­cally, women have had a much harder time. That be­ing said, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that this stuff is con­strict­ing for ev­ery­one. And I would love to see more stuff that talks about straight men be­ing very un­able to share feel­ings. Toxic mas­culin­ity is a real thing. Out of ev­ery guy I’ve ever been close to, he has had is­sues with com­mu­ni­ca­tion and emo­tion. That seems pretty bad. So maybe we should stop with this gen­der bull­shit?

GQ: Who’s do­ing a good job at push­ing such agen­das?

ER: I like peo­ple who defy stereo­types. Frank Ocean’s ob­vi­ously amaz­ing, be­cause he’s so in his feel­ings and he’s openly queer. That’s re­ally im­por­tant be­cause he’s also a sexy rap­per, which is cool. As far as women go, I wish there was even more of it. But there are a good amount of ac­tresses like Amy [Schumer] who are work­ing to re­ally show that they’re mul­ti­fac­eted and show that they can also be a lit­tle punk.

GQ: Aside from your own la­bel, are you in­ter­ested in fash­ion?

ER: I did Mi­lan and Paris fash­ion week [last Septem­ber] for Paco Ra­banne, which was amaz­ing. On the flight home, I watched the Alexan­der Mcqueen doc­u­men­tary and I was so emo­tional – it made me think about per­for­mance and clothes, and clothes for women, and a de­signer’s re­la­tion­ship’s to women. One thing that I love about Paco Ra­banne is they make clothes for women that are cool and they al­ways have. They’re smart be­cause they’re still do­ing their sig­na­ture stuff. They’re not afraid of that, but they’ve up­dated it. There’s a Neil Young quote about when you write a song, it’s like you’re a ra­dio sta­tion pick­ing up a sig­nal. I felt like Mcqueen did that. He was em­u­lat­ing some­thing. There’s not enough of that in fash­ion.

GQ: What about in men’s fash­ion?

ER: I love a guy in a suit but now I feel like it’s so street wear. I re­mem­ber six years ago when Rick Owens was ev­ery­thing for ev­ery­one. And you’d wear avant-garde in­ter­est­ing suit­ing like Issey Miyake. That kind of stuff was cool and it was dope to dress that way. But now in New York there’s Kit­suné and Supreme and I see those guys out­side and I’m like, whoa man. This is a look. You guys have it rough.

GQ: Can you see you and Se­bas­tian work­ing to­gether on a project?

ER: We’re al­ready col­lab­o­rat­ing be­cause ev­ery sin­gle thing that we’re go­ing through, we’re talk­ing about and work­ing it out. Be­ing able to trust each other’s opin­ions and bounce off each other is so valu­able.

GQ: Sense of hu­mour – how can we live with­out one?

ER: Oh my god. I mean, my sense of hu­mour’s very dark. I love a good laugh and it’s usu­ally not a funny one. The joke is that my hus­band loved [In­sta­gram sen­sa­tion] The Fat Jew so much that he found the su­per­model ver­sion of him and that we’re the same ex­act per­son, in dif­fer­ent bod­ies. We are all re­ally close friends now and keep jok­ing that we’re go­ing to start a com­pany to­gether, so watch out.

GQ: What’s on the hori­zon for 2019?

ER: 2018 was an amaz­ing year and I hope 2019 will be just as amaz­ing. You can be a mul­ti­fac­eted en­ter­tainer, busi­nessper­son, cre­ator and I’ve re­ally started to cap­i­talise on that in both my emo­tional and busi­ness senses. I have more en­tre­pre­neur­ial things com­ing up, but also mak­ing my own projects, as far as act­ing goes. You know, it’s so cool when I do a shoot now, they want me to be me. That’s true of models that no one knows as well. I love that and I hope that con­tin­ues.

Jil­lian Dav­i­son. Styling Hair Koh. Make-up Kel­lie Strat­ton. Nails Jose­lyn Petroni. Fra­grance ‘Pure XS For Her’ EDP, by Paco Ra­banne. Dress, POA, by Valentino.

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