Here's Why Emily Ratajkowski's Childhood Nickname Was "Baby Woman"

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Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski penned an essay for Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter on the subject of sexiness this week, opening up about how being an early bloomer made her a target for body-shaming long before she began building her career in earnest.

In the in-depth piece, Ratajkowski revealed that her father gave her the nickname "baby woman" when she was a preteen. "That’s what I was," she wrote, "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."

Her mature-looking body was a bit of a burden in those days, she explained, sharing how family members often warned her parents that their daughter needed special protection because of the looks she was attracting from men. Her curves also came under scrutiny at school: "In eighth grade, a vice principal snapped my bra strap in front of an entire room of my classmates and other teachers," Ratajkowski wrote. "She did it because the strap was falling out from my tank top and that broke the school’s dress code."

Clearly that's the wrong way to handle a young woman growing into her changing body — which is precisely Ratajkowski's point. The pressure to cover up and keep a low profile tended to come people who were concerned for her well-being but handled it poorly.

"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," she explained. "I was modeling only occasionally at that time, but I found the same people who faulted the modeling industry for being oppressive and sexist were frequently missing entirely their own missteps and faux pas. Their comments felt much more personal and thus landed that much harder."

Fortunately, Ratajkowski developed the confidence to rise above in the intervening years. "I see my naked body in the mirrors of all the places I’ve lived, privately dressing, going through my morning routine," she wrote in Lenny Letter. "I get ready for my day as one of my many roles in life — student, model, actress, friend, girlfriend, daughter, businesswoman. I look at my reflection and meet my own eyes. I hear the voices reminding me not to send the wrong message."

"And what is that message exactly?" she asks. And here's where she hits the nail on the head: "The implication is that to be sexual is to be trashy because being sexy means playing into men’s desires. To me, 'sexy' is a kind of beauty, a kind of self-expression, one that is to be celebrated, one that is wonderfully female."

We can definitely get behind that definition — along with the call to arms she included at the end. "Honoring our sexuality as women is a messy, messy business, but if we don’t try, what do we become?"

There is no clear-cut answer, of course. The journey to selfhood isn't an easy one. But it's an important endeavor to take on — and talk about.

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