Images of Emily Ratajkowski have long been breaking the internet. Surely I'm not the only one who has headlines like "Emily Ratajkowski Writhes Around In Spaghetti In Her Underwear For 'LOVE's Advent Calendar" burned into my brain. Of course, part of Ratajkowski's appeal lies in the fact that she prompts her audience to examine the way she both does and doesn’t have ownership over depictions of her face and body, and challenges people to think about how often she — and other models — are exploited. Yesterday, EmRata once again sparked a conversation about a photo of herself. Only this time, it was because an Instagram shot of Ratajkowski holding her three-month-old baby made some people wonder: Has she ever picked up a child before?
In a carousel of photos posted to her Instagram yesterday, Ratajkowski is seen standing in a lovely outdoor locale, wearing a blue and orange string bikini. In the first picture, she stares intensely at the camera with big eyes and pouty lips. It's a pretty standard pose for Ratajkowski, except for one thing: She's clutching her baby under her right arm, which is sharply angled off to the side of her body. The next image is similar, but this time, the model is caught in a candid moment, swooping her hair out of her face as she continues to cling to the baby whose torso is still tucked up against her, his legs dangling in the air. In the third photo, EmRata readjusts, grabbing the baby's heretofore unsupported backside — which, by the way, is clad in swim trunks that match his mother's suit. (Cute!) Finally, after the repositioning, Ratajkowski and her child land in what appears to be a much less precarious pose for the last shot. Ratajkowski's right arm still looks a bit awkward, clamped tightly over the baby's shoulder, but his bottom half is no longer blowing freely in the beach breeze thanks to being supported by her left hand and arm.
EmRata's photos often generate a lot of comments, but these photos generated a lot of comments — so many, in fact, that she shut down comments on the post. It's no wonder, really, since most of the people talking about the photos online are being hypercritical, and questioning the way she has only one arm hooked around her baby, and pointing out that it certainly isn't how we most often see children being held. This is undeniably true; this carrying technique is more like how someone might carry a bag of groceries, maybe, or a pile of books. But even though it looks awkward, does that mean it's the wrong way to hold a kid?
Well, obviously a lot of people on the internet — including some of the very worst people on the internet — had an opinion about that. Always looking for ways to shame women, Piers Morgan took to Twitter yesterday and wrote, "That's not how you hold a baby @emrata - and your millions of followers shouldn't be encouraged to do the same. Happy to give you some tips if you need them." Another Twitter user wrote, "not to mom police but the way emily ratajkowski is holding her baby in that one picture is anxiety inducing." I'm not going to lie, the photos of Ratajkowski holding the baby also give me anxiety, but not because I'm worried she's going to drop the kid — I'm sure she's taking plenty good care of him ,and it’s not up to me to sign off on how she chooses to cradle her child. The reason the photo gives me anxiety is because the idea of holding a baby itself makes me clammy.
I've held maybe four babies in my life, and I don't think I've ever attempted to do it while standing up, because the risk seems far too great and the load far too large. Even holding a newborn baby seems like a handful — not a literal handful, mind you, because they're usually much bigger than most people's hands! Babies are often referred to as "bundles of joy," but they're also bundles of fragile body parts, super heavy heads, and weak necks. The few times I've handled a baby, I've either thought to myself or asked out loud "am I doing this right?" and even the answers don't provide clarity. "Hold her like you'd hold a football" is supposed to be good advice, but guess what? I've held even fewer footballs than babies so that means absolutely nothing to me. Eager to find out if my anxiety over holding babies and the judgment so many seem to have about how Ratajkowski was clutching her kid in those photos are warranted, I enlisted help from an expert. No, not Piers Morgan.
Ruby Sibal is a newborn care expert, new parent coach, founder and CEO of Beyond Baby Care, and co-founder and CEO Himba Agency Inc. According to her, we should try to always have a fully secure, supportive hold on both the upper and lower body of any baby we hold. "A three-month-old is not as fragile as a newborn but they get so strong, you can't underestimate the capacity of how quickly they develop their gross motor skills," she explains. "It may seem to look 'okay' [to only support part of the baby's body] for two seconds but once the baby starts to feel uncomfortable or when his attention gets caught on something he is very interested in, he can start to move his head, arch his back, or do some strong stretches and kick his legs." The potential for these sudden bursts of movement is why it's important to have a good handle on the baby's whole body.
Sibal points out that Ratajkowski seemed to be holding her baby tightly against her body and that the quick succession of photos likely indicates that she was adjusting to make sure he was supported. "She obviously was swift enough to hold him securely closer to her body and ensured that he is safe and won't accidentally slip," the baby care expert points out. Sibal also says she would never judge how the model is as a mother based on a few shots posted to Instagram: "I don't know her as a person. But she is a mother. And as a mother, she is the expert of her own baby."
Okay, so we now know the best way to hold a baby, but a question still remains: Why is EmRata always holding living things so strangely in photos? Shortly after the model posted the carousel of images to Instagram, one Twitter user wrote, "Why does she hold small helpless beings like a textbook?" alongside one of the pics of Ratajkowski holding her baby and another of her holding a small dog in an eerily similar way.
I went back through EmRata's Instagram history and found several other similar pics of her clutching creatures at her side with varying degrees of support. She's gripped her dog Colombo for photos more than once. She's shown off the underside of another unidentified dog as well as a baby sea turtle. She's pressed a sheep against her body. She's even held plants to her side. Her affinity for clasping live objects close to her seems to have started early, as evidenced by these childhood photos of her with a black cat.
It really is such a puzzling pattern that I felt I needed one more expert's insights. According to body language expert Patti Wood, author of SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, these photos have little to do with what's being held. "The message is clear. The photos are about her. Whatever she is holding, be it flowers, puppies, or a baby, are mere 'artefacts,' accessories that send a nonverbal message about her personality and brand," she explains. "The flowers in front of her and surrounding her body and face are placed to say she is a beautiful flower. Her photos with dogs are to show, 'Hey, I am a loving caring dog owner.'"
Wood also has some thoughts about the way EmRata positions her own body in these photos. "She looks straight into the camera, and the dogs are not kept in loving rounded, supportive caresses. Her limbs are not relaxed around them. Her heart does not arch toward them; her torso doesn't lean in and surround." I'm glad I'm not the only one fixated on that strange arm-clench. From Wood's perspective, the main relationship these photos are about isn't between Ratajkowski and whatever she's holding. "Her focus in the photo is her relationship to the camera and her audience," she explains. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, and actually makes a certain kind of sense as that is what Instagram as a platform is all about.
As Sibal says, "Let us not forget that she is a model. Perhaps she was just trying to get a good shot of her and her baby wearing the same swimsuit print — it’s super cute — and was confident that this hold would not hurt and would show most of the print."
All to say, does Emily Ratajkowski know how to hold things? She sure does — including the attention of her millions of followers.