Interview - Teanna

by Lou Stoppard .

We use groups and subcultures and sexual preferences to protect ourselves, to make it easier, but in fact we're making it more difficult because we've stopped ourselves from learning and we've started to expect the same from the same thing.

Lou Stoppard: Can you just start by talking me through a bit about who you are and what you do.

Teanna: I'm 26, I go to LCF and I study active sportswear. I like arts and sculpture. I paint, I make jewellery. I used to box, but not anymore. I like photography, anything arty I think. Making videos, stuff like that. So I'm quite artistic.  

Lou Stoppard: You have a very artistic look as well, with your amazing tattoos and jewellery. Is that something you think quite a lot about?

Teanna: No, it took me about 11 years to become how I am now, just because you have to be sure sometimes that you're not just following fashion or culture. I wanted it to be more about me and I think now, when I dress, or if I decide to have a tattoo or a piercing, it's more about me, an individual, rather than following certain types of aesthetics.

Lou Stoppard: So where do most of your inspirations for your tattoos come from, do they have messages?

Teanna: Some of them are done because I feel like I lost something, not necessarily a person or a possession, but if I've let go of something and decided to move on from a certain aspect of my life, then I get a tattoo to symbolise that period or time. The Ganesh, the elephant, I got because elephants are quite heavy-handed but they're steadfast and they're quite knowledgeable and can command attention, and I think that sort of reflects the sort of person that I am. But they are still scared of certain things, and it can be the smallest things too. Other tattoos I've done because of the places that they are. I like a lot of tribal stuff, not necessarily the meaning behind it, but sometimes they have the smallest meanings. Like the Maori tribes used to pierce their septum, because they believed that it made them different from pigs and boars and as a human, you have to think why would you compare yourself to a pig or a boar.

Lou Stoppard: How do you find reactions to your appearance? Do you ever find people are shocked by it, or they think you should dress in more conventional ways? How do you find the reactions?

Teanna: Some are good, some are bad. I don't think most people mean anything bad, it's just hard for them to relate to you because you are so different. I don't think it's really different, I think it's just an ability to understand people and I don't think people talk as much. But when you're quite cultural and you're into art and creative things, I think you're more vocal because you're quite expressive. I think the kind of people who are shocked or perplexed by it are not very expressive, so I don't expect them to understand. It doesn't upset me so I just get on with it really.

Lou Stoppard: When you talk about being expressive, you're visually a very expressive person. You very much use your body as a form of expression. Why is that the case, why are you drawn to that rather than expressing yourself in a verbal way?

Teanna: Because we all have such short attention spans. And I think it's easier visually to relate to something, or be part of something than it is vocally because we don't all tend to listen. And sometimes being drawn to things visually, even just products - soap and stuff like that - we want to talk about it and then we become quite conversational. I think that's very important.

Lou Stoppard: Do you ever find it annoying that people have such conventional ideas of how girls and women should look?

Teanna: No, because I think that if that didn't happen, we wouldn't be able to evolve as people. People have to have their opinions or we would all be the same, and I don't think it'll be a nice world if we were all the same because then we'd never have the knowledge to understand things. I quite like when people voice their opinions because it helps me conversationally, and visually. It helps me want to relate to other people and it helps me understand their views as well as understand my own. You don't want to be too pigheaded, it's not a good thing.

Lou Stoppard: You never find peoples' attitudes can be quite upsetting? That girls should have long hair, or dress in a certain way…?

Teanna: It only bothers me when it stops me from being who I am. If someone had an issue, if I get to a certain point I'll ask them what the issue is. But it's not confrontational, it's just for me to understand. My mum has a lot of reservations about things, and certain things I listen to, others I ignore. But I just try to relate it to my own feelings and emotions rather than anybody else's, because I don't want it to stop me from progressing as an individual.

Lou Stoppard: Would you say that your look is very much for yourself, it's not to make a statement. It's just your way of expressing yourself?

Teanna: Yeah. I was saying to someone yesterday, who was talking about shaving your head. I remember when I just left school, so I was 15, and I'd never relaxed my hair so I did and two days later, I shaved it all off.

Lou Stoppard: So you weren't tied to your hair?

Teanna: No! It's going to grow back. There was a moment and at that moment I felt like I'd done it and expressed myself. And since then I've grown my hair back twice, so that's almost 11 years. And then it became a thing, for people to shave their heads and things like that. People have different reasons for doing things, like I said, sometimes for cultural purposes, sometimes it's because they're drawn to media influences and sometimes people just feel like they want to do something different. Most of the time, that's how I feel. I just don't want to be in the same rut, be the same person everyday, it gets quite boring everyday. We don't try things that are new and that's quite important.

Lou Stoppard: There are quite a lot of categories that come out of various subcultures or groups of people who identify with a certain look. Some of it got discussed in the shoot, so things like Femmes and Studs and Butch. Do you find those terms useful? Do you identify with any of them?

Teanna: No I don't. I understand why people do and why it's very easy for people to do that because most of the time when you're not secure about your own sexuality or your behaviours or your preferences or how you feel about yourself, I think it's easy to tie yourself down to certain labels. But I think it's more a thing people use to hide behind rather than to make them better people, stronger. So I try not to put myself in a category so I'm only limited to one thing, and people expect a certain behaviour from me because that comes from everything - sexuality, culture, religion. People start to think you are a certain way if you're associated with any of those groups. So I don't find it useful and also if you use those groups to categorise other people then you become quite stereotypical, so there's nothing positive out of it.

Lou Stoppard: Why do you think people are so keen to categorise themselves?

Teanna: I think because it makes it easier for them to live with themselves and other people. We use groups and subcultures and sexual preferences to protect ourselves, to make it easier, but in fact we're making it more difficult because we've stopped ourselves from learning and we've started to expect the same from the same thing. For me, if I were to go out somewhere and there was a specific group and I was put in that room, a hundred of them could be totally different from the other, but because I have this vision of what they should be I'm blinded by the fact that they are actually individual. And I think that's the problem with cultures and subcultures, that now, they are not used to really express the way we feel. They're used to sort of barricade us from the rest of the world and I don't think that's a good thing.

Lou Stoppard: I'm interested in what you say about different cultures and sexualities. Especially in terms of sexuality, people are very keen to assign certain characteristics, for instance if someone is gay or straight, people are more inclined to assign firstly an aesthetic but also personality traits. Why does that happen you think? Do you find that quite irritating?

Teanna: No because I'd probably do exactly the same thing. So no, I can't really say it's irritating, but it happens and I don't know why it happens. You don't think about it, it's like it's a natural process, something you expect.

Lou Stoppard: You seem very comfortable with yourself, you don't seem to get particularly put out or angry about peoples’ reactions.

Teanna: No I don't get angry. I will say things, like when people sit in front of my face and just stare at me, that annoys me. But it just annoys me because they don't say anything, I'd rather them ask me a question than just sit there and stare. So then it makes me quite vocal and I say things like, 'can I help you?' or 'what are you looking at?' I don't get angry, it just makes me want to start a conversation. But then sometimes I quite like it, the fact that people can't relate to me or are bewildered by my appearance because it makes me not like them and I don't want to be like everybody else. But sometimes it can make you quite frustrated. I think most of the time it's because nobody talks or if they do say something it's murmured and that can be quite irritating.

Lou Stoppard: Have your family and friends been quite receptive to the way you look?

Teanna: Yes and no. When I was younger, I think parents know when you're going to expand and when you're going to become unique or individual and I think it's a joyful time for you and for parents and friends. But it can be quite hard because they can't relate to what you're going through and then they have to watch it happen. They think you've pressed the self-destruct button but it's not that. I think as long as it's not something you hide, it's easier and you enjoy the process with other people. And I've got a good family and friend structure but I haven't had too much trouble. Just a little bit. But that's just got to do with piercings and tattoos, I think as I got older it became easier because then they couldn't stop me.

Lou Stoppard: When was the point where you really knew who you were?

Teanna: When I was in primary school I used to do stupid things like go to school in clown outfits. I was the only person in my primary school to wear a school uniform. I didn't have to, my school didn't have one, I just wanted to wear one! I just wasn't like everyone else. I think I was encouraged rather than told it was a negative thing, that I should follow other people. I think that made it easier for me, it just naturally happened. But I did get to a stage where I doubted myself and was like should I, shouldn't I. And I'd get a tattoo in a place I'd make sure was hidden just because I really wanted a tattoo. I designed a tattoo and for so long I really wanted it but instead of just putting it where I wanted to put it, I placed it somewhere else because I was doubting myself. People were saying to me that it was wrong but I don't know why I fought myself. And then it just became a natural process. Sometimes I feel like walking out in a top hat, sometimes I would wear a kite on my back, because it's just how I feel.

Lou Stoppard: I think in our generation, people below 35 or so, are so much more open-minded in expressing themselves in more visual ways. Maybe it's the Internet, and street culture and putting photos of yourself online. It seemed to open up quite a lot of the new possibilities for expression. But then on the other hand, more than ever, I think a lot of people would say we are a generation that is very narrow-minded and binary in terms of how we sees things. Like girls have to wear dresses and boys have to be masculine. Do you ever find that?  

Teanna: Yeah, but I think I choose not to put myself in those surroundings. Just because I think with the 21st century, it's easier for us now to be so narrow-minded and to follow certain things, because we've had everything, we've had the 16th, 15th, 14th, the 1900s, the renaissance, we've had everything now put into the 21st century, so people can take different aspects of cultural movements and make social groups to put people in. Because we've been able to see so much history, people pull things that they can associate with from other cultural groups and they become so stereotypical. My mum and stepdad go to Gambia and the way I look there, is fine besides the fact that I have a lot of silver on, it's fine, I'm just very small. In places like that it's easier. But here, I think maybe because it's a Western society, it's different. After you start talking to someone, it does get easier because otherwise they don't know your background or experiences or how you feel about yourself.

Lou Stoppard: Do you see yourself changing in the future, in 10, 20 years?

Teanna: Yeah I'll probably be totally different. I've already started removing things. I think about that all the time. I'll probably be fat, as I eat a lot. I'd still have the tattoos but I won't have the piercings. As I get older I'll slow down and I think I'll become more expressive but more vocal. I think times will change as well. We're at a time when I think it's ok to be quite expressive. When it becomes difficult for me to understand, then I think that's when I'll try and… not stop as I'm not stopping anything. But it'll be difficult I think.

Lou Stoppard: Do you think about having children, how they'd express themselves?

Teanna: Sometimes, however, I'd want them to do what they want to do. And I'd want them to be quite individual just because I've been allowed to do exactly the same thing. I wouldn't encourage any behaviour just because I'd done it, but I'd want them to be expressive, whether it be vocal or visual, just because it's important. But I'm not worried about it. Not yet anyway. Maybe when I go off the rails...