I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO INTERVIEW AND SHOOT TAYLOR LAST WEEK ON THE LAKE. THE PHOTOS AND INTERVIEW WORK HAND IN HAND TO TELL HER STORY OF STRUGGLE, AND HOW SHE WANTS TO USE IT TO ADVOCATE FOR OTHERS. READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW BELOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TAYLOR AND HER JOURNEY:
Taylor: So I went to Aruba in the Spring, and I put on my little bikini, and then I looked in the mirror and I was like, “Oh shit”. I first cut myself when I was eleven years old, like six years ago now. I told everyone, “Oh yeah I stopped when I was thirteen, it’s over, blah blah blah”. I looked way different when I was thirteen. Now, I look in the mirror and I’m like, “Oh my god”, not everyone looks like this. That’s like such a crazy realization. When I walk down the street men say things like, “Hey, kitty cat baby!”, and I think to myself “If they saw my scars would they still say that?”.
I’ve heard so many times, “Oh my god, you’re so emo” while hearing at the same time, “You’re so hot I don’t care about the scars. Don’t worry about it. It’s okay”. That puts you in such a bizarre place. I’m not supposed to look like this. Not everybody looks like this. There are always people who tell me I shouldn’t be doing this, and then there are people who just can’t stop staring, like, they snicker when I walk past.
With this blonde hair now, people see me as this “white girl”. I was talking to my father the other day, my Latino father, Puerto Rican father, and he was like “Taylor you’re white”. And I’m like okay. Yeah, I am white, and he’s white too, but still he isn’t. I’m of mixed race. And that’s such a hill for people, as well as the way that I look. They see my body and they don’t sexualize me. They say, “There is no spicy Latina stereotyping here”. But they see me as this little “white kid” who is so involved with herself that she does this stuff. You know? I feel like it puts me in this realm of strange privilege. I know I have this privilege. I look like a white woman. I don’t read as Latina.
Eva: So you’re like white passing?
Taylor: Yeah I’m white passing. It’s a privilege. I never know how to address my issues as a woman of color. I never use that term to describe myself because it makes me feel like I’m encroaching on a space I shouldn’t be encroaching on. I can so easily insert myself into a white person’s world. But still things put me on the outs because of where I live, or how when I talk it’s labeled as “Chola”, or the way I do my eyeliner, it’s “Chola” eyeliner.
Eva: It’s cultural.
Taylor: Yeah. I feel like a caricature of this culture unintentionally because I’m trying to connect with it in the way that I look. I have so much discomfort in my body from choosing to go down that road of self harm. I find myself not being taken seriously often because this is supposedly the biggest thing in my life. Like I’m expected to walk down the street with long sleeves, long pants, and big shoes so that I look a semblance of normal, and I’m not going to do that. I dress like a “thot” or whatever. But then again, I become that caricature of a Latina woman who is oversexualized. Do I oversexualize myself intentionally to try and fit into this stereotype that people do and don’t see me as?
Eva: Do you feel accepted by the Latinx community?
Taylor: I’ve never “interacted” with the Latinx community. Some of my best friend are Mexican and Puerto Rican women and they are so important to me. They will say stuff like, “Oh my god, Taylor is so Puerto Rican”, and I feel like I fit in with them. But I don’t know how I fit into the community. I don’t want to say I don’t feel accepted because to me, that sounds like I’m making it about me and making it my problem. I feel like I would be accepted as a Latinx woman, but I don’t know how comfortable I would be in that position. It’s all just very weird for me as a person who is mixed race. I don’t know much about Puerto Rico. I’ve never been. My Spanish is elementary level. My father’s parents have divorced. His father is Puerto Rican and he doesn’t want much to do with him or his background. But now I have this disconnect, and I don’t know what I want to do to bridge that gap. I connect so much more easily with my mother and her Danish background because it is more accessible to me. I think I would be accepted into the Latinx community, but right now it doesn’t feel as big to me. I just don’t’ know if I can give myself the label “Latina” because I don’t want to encroach on something.
And with the whole self harm thing, I feel like it’s easier to talk about than my race because it’s what people immediately see. It’s what I have been written off as.
Eva: So you think people pass off your scars because they see you as a white girl?
Taylor: I feel like they focus on them so much more. People see them and they are like, “Oh shit. I’m going to talk about that” other than saying, “She’s smart, nice, this, that”. I feel like that becomes the biggest thing about me which is troubling because I want to be seen as not only a human being, but a mixed race human being. It’s something I have to take charge of, embrace, and be happy and proud of.
Eva: Do you think people would view you different if they saw you as a woman of color?
Taylor: If people saw me as a woman of color with this mental health problem it would be different. All of the books and movies about girls who have eating disorders or depression, (ie. Girl Interrupted, Wintergirls), things like that, they are young and conventionally beautiful white women. Being happy with yourself and your own body, this isn’t a concept addressed in reference to women of color. Women of color with these struggles don’t have many people to relate to in the media. I’ve read so many books about little girls that hurt themselves, but these girls are never of color I’ve never seen a black, brown, or Asian girl in that position.
I feel like if people saw me as a woman of color I could be someone to talk to. I don’t necessarily think it’s a responsibility that I should have, but it’s one that I want to have.
Eva: So in this situation, how does being white passing work for you and the access you have with having these issues?
Taylor: Like I have so much access to help. I had to go to therapy in grade school because the state thought i was crazy. Also in regards to the school I went to, we had a social worker and a counselor. Even though I wore longsleeves everyday and never talked, they were like, “She has problems, and they need to be addressed”. I feel as though if I looked more conventionally Latina, my white English teacher in seventh grade might not have cared so much. I would hope that this wouldn’t be the case, but nowadays with the way things just look I don’t think she would. Women of color are just viewed in a more adult way. I don’t know if people of color have that same network and outreach that changed my life. I want to be that example of “you can still do this” for others. This is a problem that I still deal with every day. I want people to know that it’s so much more than a white kid, emo kid problem. It’s not just a whiny issue of someone who is privileged and is making issues for themselves. I want Latina girls to know it is okay to hurt and seek help. I think the one good thing that could come from me ruining my body and breaking the hearts of people around me- I want to be an example that it is okay. It is okay for people to do this and want help. You’re not a freak for it.
Eva: When do you feel the most vulnerable?
Taylor: I don’t really feel vulnerable in reference to the way I look. When I’m around strangers who I can tell are staring at my body and either making comments to me or someone else, it’s a feeling of exposure that I’m not particularly fond of.
Eva: When do you feel the most confident?
Taylor: When I put on my makeup and a cute outfit regardless of if my scars are visible or not. Or, when I’m with people who have either had the same problems or are able to look past mine. They know that it is a part of me, but I’m just a person that they know and care about.
Eva: Why is intersectionality important to you?
Taylor: Intersectionality is incredibly important to me. I grew up considering myself a feminist. I grew up in a realm of powerful women. I always had women to uplift me. I was a little white passing kid. I know a lot of young girls of color are not uplifted in the same way. Society does not deem them intelligent or pretty. Everyone always told me I was a smart pretty girl. I have so many friends that are women of color, I am a woman of color. I consider myself a knowledgeable feminist. I think intersectionality is the most important thing for me and for feminism. I grew up in such a place of privilege. It’s so jarring to realize that the feminism that uplifted me, the women around me that were taken so seriously, are all white women with such privilege. Women of color wouldn’t be taken so seriously in those positions. I want all women to have the opportunities I have being white passing. That is the job of intersectionality, to uplift women who can’t reach things so easily.
Taylor Lopez is a sixteen year old white/ Latinx guerita cis-gendered girl. She is also a poet and a "bad Catholic".
Photos by Eva Lewis