STEPHANIE SWAIN may only be 19, but she is dealing with the same challenges as any 20-odd, trying to decide whether to pursue her passions or follow a more conventional route. The student/model/actress currently resides in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona following a brave move out to L.A. and back.
I was honored to work with Steph as the lead of my independent film “WENDY: Lost Girl” where she played Wendy Darling. She graciously agreed to video chat me from Arizona to talk about the joys and struggles of early adulthood.
Age: 19, Location: Tucson, AZ
The most surprising/unexpected about being in your 20s?
I think it’s truly like going with something, running with something. It’s so surprising to me to learn about yourself and learn about what you really want to do and sticking with that. Once you find that, it really just surprises you that you can follow through with that and really have a love and dedication to go through with something. Because it’s hard, you know, when you’re [in your] 20s, you’re always second-guessing yourself.
The best and the hardest thing about being in your 20s?
I think the best part about being in your 20s is definitely having that independence that you didn’t have your whole life. Making your own decisions, all those things. And that’s also the worst part about being in your 20s because it can get very lonely…. You kind of have to jump out of your own and be strong because no one will catch you but yourself.
Something you wish someone had told you about being in your 20s?
I wish someone would have told me that it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to fall. It’s okay to second guess yourself. It’s okay to cry.
Biggest thing you’ve learned since graduating from high school?
This is kind of sad, but I’ve learned that you can only trust yourself and loving yourself and being there for yourself is probably the most important thing in life. Because if you don’t have that love, you’re gonna be searching for it through other people and it’s just gonna end up bad.
Advice you would give to your younger teenage self?
Take life a little bit more seriously. I wish I would have paid more attention in school and taken myself more seriously and worried about my future more because it’s really important that you’re serious about your life goals and not just like “Oh, this is just high school, whatever.”
Best advice you have ever received?
I’ve received a lot of advice that’s good. I think, I wanna say from my mom, she said that you can’t really change what other people think or feel. And to me, I let other people’s emotions and how they feel really get to me but I kind of realized that what other people want and go through is their life, it’s their path and as long as you know you can’t change that and just do you, it really helps me get through life and not be as sensitive and emotional as I am towards my friends, family and whoever else.
How would you describe where you’re at now versus how you were as a kid or a teenager? How have you changed?
I think I’ve become a lot more serious. In this particular moment right now, I’m going to school and stuff and I think that I never really imagined myself to be living such a “normal” life. Like after moving to California and stuff, I’m just going to school and having a job. And while that’s good and dandy, it’s just not where I see myself. And I think it’s kind of interesting, I surprised myself. I didn’t think I could do this and now that I know that I can, I can expand my horizons and do what I actually want. It’s a good surprise.
I was a buser at a cafe. It was horrible. I got soap in my shoes every day and I grabbed dishes and I felt like Cinderella.
I’m a hostess at PF Chang’s. It’s definitely dealing with a lot of people who are cranky cuz they wanna eat but it’s pretty fun.
Where do you see yourself by 30?
I see myself living in definitely a different state than Arizona, having a family and being financially stable as well as traveling the world cuz that’s very important to me and I want to do that.
Tell me more about the move to and from LA:
I’m bittersweet about it because right now I know I’m taking a break and just kind of figuring out what I want and who I am. But you know, moving out there [to LA], it was such a hard thing for me to finally put my feet down there and follow my dreams and wake up every day and be excited to go to work. And now that I’m back here, I just find myself just living an average life and you know, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself just knowing that it’s really not for me and life is more about what makes you happy, what you’re passionate about as opposed to just doing what’s right. And that’s partly why I moved back here. I wanted to go to school, get an education, be financially stable. But in learning that, I just don’t think… you should do what you want. Life is too short. Just do what makes you happy. At the end of the day, it’s not about the money and as long as you just know yourself and what you wanna do. I know I wanna go back to LA for so many reasons.
Why did you move to California?
My whole life growing up in Arizona, I’ve always been like “There’s more.” There’s a fire inside of me that is unlike any people here and I just want to explore the entertainment world. So I moved out to California right after high school and I started pursuing acting and modeling and whatnot. It was just a crazy whirlwind. And it was terrifying at first and I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know anyone. But once I got that going, that ball going, it kind of gained momentum and it just kept getting better and better. Because once you break out of your comfort zone, it feels like there’s no boundaries. You can really just do whatever you want. And then you look back and you’re like “Wow, I did that.” And it’s truly like anything is possible. You can do anything you want. There’s nothing holding you back. I loved it. It’s probably the best decision I ever made and I recommend it to anyone in their 20s. Go out, break your comfort zone, do what you wanna do because at the end of the day, you’re gonna have a great story to tell as opposed to just doing what’s right, what you’re “supposed to do.”
If you loved it so much, why did you leave?
Last fall, I kind of went into a slump. I started seeing my friends in California become people I didn’t really admire. They were getting sucked into the social media world and sucked into the fame aspect. I kind of had this realization about what it was to be a young actor, young model in LA and it kind of scared me. I kind of realized I don’t want this. I want people with values that love their family and love their friends and would never use someone or mistreat them. At the same time, I was looking at people who were struggling to pay their rent in California and still doing background acting after all these years and I kind of was like, “You know, I think I could live a better life than this. I think I’m smarter than this. I think I could get my degree and then maybe come back out here.” But at the time, I was ignoring my passion…. So I came back to Arizona to get my education cuz it’s much cheaper here. I kind of missed my family. I wanted to see what it was like to live here because while in LA, I watched all my friends that went to high school [with me] go to college and have that experience and it was kind of like, “I’m missing out on something.” And every time I visited them, I felt like that. So I think I really needed to have this experience to see what it was like because if I didn’t, I would have wondered my whole life.
So I came back for several reasons but mostly because I was second-guessing myself which goes back to what I was saying. In your 20s, constantly second-guessing yourself. You know, you’re just like “Ooh, am I doing this right? Should I be doing this?” And you’ve gotta do that to figure out your path and I think that’s just what I’ve been doing.
What inspires you?
This sounds cheesy but I inspire myself. I try to compare myself to my past self and kind of improve on that as opposed to comparing myself to other people which I find really kind of drives me down and makes me sad. I’m kind of like “What can I do to make myself better?” So, using yourself as inspiration, as weird as that sounds, really benefits you.
Is there a motto or quote you try to live your life by?
I think it’s just what’s most important to me. I guess, it’s not like a motto but more like what I always am thinking about is you, I mean as the stereotypical as this is, you only live once. You should make it as fun and happy as possible.
I think it’s good but it’s also bad cuz I don’t think about the serious things in life. I’m like “I just wanna have fun.” Just enjoying yourself. I don’t wanna live as one of those people who have a cubicle and hate their life. Just enjoy life.
I know that you recently started modeling again. Can you talk about what inspired you to start modeling and to continue in Arizona?
I moved to California to act and every time I was on set, people were like “Oh, you should model. You’re tall enough.” I never really thought about it. And then, I figured out I could make money this way if I tried and I was like, “Wow, I should start doing this.” So I started to, you now, apply myself, go on different shoots and things like that, kind of dip my toes in it. And I found out that the modeling industry is pretty harsh on self-esteem, your body weight and all that. So I took that into consideration and I made it so that modeling wouldn’t be my end goal. It would be a pathway to where I wanted to be so that if I did get rejected, it wouldn’t hurt me as bad. And I think it’s a really fun way to express myself. Why I love modeling the most is seeing the pictures and the art in them. How they’re styled, how the photographer did it. I think that’s more important to me than ever looking beautiful or “hot” in a picture. Just kind of like a storyboard of all these different shoots you did and the art and the energy that the photographer did. I really love that. ANd right now, I’m trying to get signed to an agency but it’s really tough. The restrictions they have for you, you’ve gotta be like a perfect Barbie doll. I definitely don’t let it get to me that much though because it’s more fun than anything.
Has it been something that helped you stay tapped into that creative part of yourself while you’re in AZ?
Yes, definitely. I think for a while I kind of think I stopped doing everything in Arizona cuz I was so sad that I wasn’t in LA and that nothing could compare to the energy and things I was doing there that I was like “Oh, it’s not worth it to do photoshoots here because it won’t be like LA.” And then I kind of realized I was losing myself, that once yous top creating art and doing what you love, you completely go delusional and aren’t yourself anymore so I kind of forced myself, as hard as it was, to go out into Arizona and explore that and I think it’s really helped me keep who I am in LA together and like keep that passion alive so that I can go back.
Who makes up your support system and/or do you feel like that part of your life is lacking?
I think I have a ton of friends who make up that support system like honestly you. I love you and you just support everything I do no matter what, so that’s awesome. And just like some other friends I have in California, mostly I’ve found that people who are also artists are the best supporters to have because we truly understand the struggle of not the rest of the world understanding what we’re doing. I think having friends that are artists really does help.
Something you can’t live without?
I’m gonna say chocolate… I eat it almost every day. I’m like a chocoholic.
A fun fact about you?
I like to eat lemons… I don’t know why. I just started doing it at restaurants. I was like, “I bet I can eat this. It’s so sour.” And then I started liking it and now I’m like, “I’m curing cancer and cleansing my body” so I eat lemons. What the heck? But it’s kind of fun.
I think my favorite emoji is the little angel one with the little halo. It’s just so happy and cute. I just love that one. I use it all the time.
Taylor Swift used the four words “happy, free, confused and lonely” to describe being in your early 20s. What are four words that you would use to describe where you’re at?
I think that’s pretty spot on but I’ll try to think…
Lost… happy… nostalgic, definitely one of them and hopeful.
Alright. What’s next is I’m planning on my move back to California this summer, actually, I was planning on going back and just doing school while pursuing the entertainment industry so that I’m not missing out on any part of being in your early 20s. So that I can just fully experience both of those things.
Photography by Rayann Marie Photography