Three days after Emily Ratajkowski’s book of essays (“My Body”) was published, in November 2021, Britney Spears was released from her conservatorship. As the subject of “Toxic,” one of Ratajkowski’s most pointed pieces about growing up as an object of lust and scrutiny, Spears has long been a preoccupation for the 31-year-old model, author and mother. Almost a year later, Ratajkowski is thinking about the world’s many reactions to how a newly freed Spears has expressed herself — especially in her ongoing Instagram series of cheeky, defiant nudes, a genre Ratajkowski knows well.
“She’s gone through things that affect you for the rest of your life,” Ratajkowski says, “and she has this public stage where we will continue to watch her. It just makes me sad. And the way people are like, ‘Come on, you’re a mother!’ has really fascinated me. It’s Britney Spears! I’m sure she has a very complicated relationship to being sexualized. But she’s now doing it on her own terms. So why are we ripping her apart for that and bringing into the conversation that she’s a mother?” She pauses, then adds with a sigh, “I don’t know why we hate women so much. It still shocks me all the time.”
Whether talking about Spears, the reaction to Adam Levine’s alleged cheating or the perils of social media putting Amber Heard on “witch trial,” Ratajkowski is an engaged conversationalist. This is even more impressive given that she takes this interview while also wrangling her luggage and restless son during a rare window between Fashion Week commitments, which have her traveling from the West Village to Milan, London and Paris, with a quick stop in her beloved Mallorca in between.
This ability to balance listening and logistics should prove useful when — as Variety can exclusively reveal — her new podcast, “High Low With EmRata,” drops Nov. 1. Having grown up on a steady diet of NPR (“Ira Glass was my hero”), Ratajkowski describes the podcast as “‘Call Her Daddy’ meets ‘Fresh Air,’” and will take cues from co-hosts as disparate as Kara Swisher (“Brilliant”), Howard Stern (“an honesty and frankness…that just resonates with people”) and even Joe Rogan. “Obviously I don’t agree with his politics,” she says as a caveat, “but there’s something there that really works. If you’re listening to somebody talk and the interviewer feels like they aren’t following the conversation in the way that a listener is, then it’s just not interesting — and Joe Rogan does listen. He has a perspective and he asks questions that are aligned with that perspective, and it’s entertaining.”
Episodes of “High Low” will roll out twice a week (plus a bonus episode for subscribers). One episode will feature a guest interview; the other, a scripted monologue that she’s approaching much like she did her essays. Unsurprisingly, given her book’s themes of taking back control from an industry determined to define her, she says she’s most excited about producing the show “in my way.”
For the 1.5 million people who follow her on Twitter, the 1.8 million who follow her on TikTok and the 29.5 million who follow her on Instagram, Ratajkowski’s candor and insight into the corrosive sexism at the heart of the entertainment industry has made her an unusual, and unusually compelling, figure. Once derided as brainless arm candy after starring in the infamous music video for “Blurred Lines,” she has since built a name for herself as the celebrity feminist who’s willing to question the limits of feminist discourse, the constant commodification of women’s bodies and her own place in all of the above.
For example, when the internet recently became engulfed in gleeful memes about Adam Levine allegedly cheating on his wife with an Instagram model, Ratajowski was disturbed to see many people laying the blame at the model’s feet instead of the man twice her age who slid into her DMs in the first place.
“I’m very familiar with those kinds of power dynamics between men and women,” she says, “and I saw another moment where we were choosing to attack a young woman instead of the powerful man, which I didn’t love.” In response, she posted a pair of TikToks explaining her perspective, which have since racked up 4 million views.
“It wasn’t honestly about Adam Levine,” Ratajkowski insists. “I just responded to this woman talking about how women need to change and adjust as preparation for men’s behavior, which is something I’ve been talking and writing about for a long time. Like, this ‘Boys will be boys’ attitude that women have? We have to do better.”
In recent months, especially in the wake of her split from producer Sebastian Bear-McClard, Ratajkowski has acquired a new fondness for TikTok as a social media platform that truly lets her be herself. As a model and founder of the swimwear line Inamorata, Ratajkowski often sees Meta-owned Instagram as an unavoidable part of her job, while Twitter’s traditionally been a site of “weird, corny men saying weird, scary things.” On TikTok, though, she can just have fun. She can dance with her son and post enticing snippets of events. She can answer an “if you identify as bisexual, do you own a green velvet couch?” prompt by showing off her own green velvet couch, and all that implies, with a casual smirk that says she knows exactly what people might make of it.
“I have a generally complicated relationship to the internet as a celebrity,” she admits. It’s still strange for her to be the subject of rabid tabloid culture that follows her every move, as she’s recently been amid breathless reports that she might, maybe?, be dating Brad Pitt — a subject she expertly sidesteps when it arises. “One of the things I write about in the last essay of the book is about control and kind of understanding that one of the best ways to actually be happy and have some semblance of control is letting go,” she says. “I’m newly single for basically the first time in my life ever, and I just feel like I’m kind of enjoying the freedom of not being super worried about how I’m being perceived.”
As for letting looser on TikTok, Ratajkowski explains that there’s a curious freedom in being more “unfiltered” than she felt able to on other social media platforms. All you have to strive for is to be as honest and as upfront as you can, and make it feel like people are just in your iPhone camera roll.” In that respect, she says, “I enjoy vulnerability and radical honesty, so TikTok is a perfect medium for that.”
Case in point: In late August, she posted a six-second TikTok that paired a caption reading, “It’s 2022 and it’s getting even SCARIER to be a woman,” with a list of things she’s afraid of: “Roe v. Wade getting overturned,” “Harvey [Weinstein] getting an appeal,” “Shia [LaBeouf]’s redemption tour” and “The way y’all dragged Amber [Heard] and the precedent that court case set.” Five years after #MeToo exploded into the zeitgeist, Ratajkowski isn’t sure how much it’s changed anything at all.
“#MeToo happened, and the majority of the conversation was still, ‘You better be careful out there!’” she says, sighing. “I guess there’s some accountability now, but I don’t think there’s a lot of empathy or deep understanding of women’s positions in the world.” If anything, she says wryly, “it feels like men are in their comeback season.”
So when she posted a video in which she insists that powerful men like Levine should take sole responsibility for their mistakes, she wasn’t surprised that many commentators were there to disagree with her. “Women seeking attention is always the classic misogyny hot topic. It’s really what gets people going, to accuse a woman of seeking attention. Personally, I know that really well,” she says. “So, yeah, I get a lot of hate. But as they say on TikTok: ‘The girls who get it, get it.’ That’s my motto these days.”