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Cheril Sanchez
Photography Cheril Sanchez

The artist calling BS on gender roles

At just 24, creative Yaris Sanchez is leaving her mark on the art and film world – see how she’s flying the flag for empowered, multidimensional women

Meet Yaris Sanchez, the 24-year-old creative blazing her own path and challenging our internalised biases. Emerging on the scene as a teen video model and exotic dancer, the budding auteur's harrowing journey and infectious spirit are hard to go unnoticed. Comfortably nestled between a quirky sense of humour and laissez-faire aplomb, reside the duties of a mother, model, artist, theatre and film student. "I've experienced a lot of resistance, of course, so many people don't want to accept me as a woman who can become a chameleon...but this is who I am," she serenely states.

In a society that has long relished placing limitations on women, the mounting pressures to make personal concessions in the name of being a 'good girl' remain unyielding – the pervasive archetype, in its many forms, fosters the charming notion women must follow a set of politics to be worthy of respect, love, and consideration. Eager to dispel such constrictive ideals and yearning to celebrate the full spectrum of women, Sanchez has set out to be the change she desires to see.

A foray into the contemporary art world came to fruition with her debut exhibition “Never The Girl Next Door”: A 50s-inspired photo series heavily influenced by the women's liberation movement and 50s pin-up model Bettie Page. "I guess my breakthrough moment was my “Never The Girl Next Door” project with photographer Ravie B. It was me creating something of my own, using all that I had learned in the industry, how it all boils down to women coming together and uplifting each other. It stemmed from what people have been taught the girl next door is, and how it's supposed to be what women should aspire to. This was me basically owning the fact that I'm not her and I don't care to be, but I'm still damn amazing and there's so many girls just like this – and these are the girls I speak for."

Sanchez emphasises her sentiments echo points of a greater dialogue surrounding inclusion, or lack thereof, and she raises a fair point. Too often are we served the delectable illusion of diversity on a silver platter. But what we seem to seldom acknowledge, is true inclusion and diverse representation spans far beyond occasionally including a minority or queer or trans person. It's having people from all walks of life bringing varying points of views and experiences, while showing the many nuances of their humanity. "I feel such a strong responsibility to step in and add change. Step in and blur those lines and make it a norm that a Spanish girl from Dyckman and The Bronx, who was a stripper, who was a video vixen, who has a curvy body, can be successful and inspire. I'd like to see women from all walks of life, (women) who went through hardship after hardship and fought their way in until they were heard and made something beautiful out of it all, you know? That just don't give a fuck and are not conforming to society's stifling expectations of us and are doing what they love and making it beautiful." Below we spoke with Sanchez to find out more about how she's pushing this point forward.

Tell us about your background and moving to the states.

Yaris Sanchez: I was born in the Dominican Republic and I moved to America with my mum when I was three-years-old, leaving my siblings behind until my mum was able to bring them all over. We moved to Dyckman, which is an NYC neighborhood that's mostly populated by Dominicans, then during my high school years I moved to The Bronx.

How was that transition for you?

Yaris Sanchez: The transition was fairly easy since I was so little. My childhood was great. I had to learn English to communicate with the rest of the kids but I did that pretty fast.

How did the whirlwind of video modeling and stripping get started?

Yaris Sanchez: I started video modeling at 17. People used to tell me I'd be good for it and I also saw it as a form of acting, and that's what I wanted to do when I was a little girl, was be an actress. So I gave it a shot and apparently it went well.

I began stripping at 18 and initially it was to pay for prom in high school. I went to The High School of Fashion Industries, and my mum could not afford the tickets, dress, shoes and all the glam that came along with it. Our school won this Seventeen Magazine prom contest, where we would have all these special guests and Kid Cudi would be performing, so it was a pretty big deal. I came to find this club by a friend I met on set of a music video. I remember her saying that she was a stripper, so I reached out to her and told her I needed to make some quick money.

I think a lot of young women end up in strip clubs because they probably have very big goals or very big bills, and it's fast money, a lot of it, so they do what they gotta do. I met a lot of girls in there paying for their college tuition or they have kids and a 9-5 isn't enough. It was a very awkward first day, I'll tell you that much. It was a lot to take in but it wasn't horrendous, something about the women who were in there made me respect them so much. You have to be brave and so confident with yourself as a whole, not just physically, to go up there despite society's misconceptions of strip clubs – and do it oh so proudly.

“I was exploited but I used all of those experiences as stepping stones to empower myself” –  Yaris Sanchez

You've mentioned before Craigslist played a role in your start. How so?

Yaris Sanchez: Yes, so being that I was also a young mum and had my daughter at 15, I needed the extra cash, and working part-time at The Children's Place wasn't going to cut it. I went on Craigslist and replied to so many ads seeking video models until I got some. One of them were actually with a director who went on to do very big projects and he ended up rehiring me.

Oh, the things that can become of a Craigslist response!

Yaris Sanchez: (Laughs) I know!

How did you use those experiences to uplift yourself? Was it a long journey?

Yaris Sanchez: It was a spiritual one I would say. I was naive, I was young, it was fairly new. I was exploited but I used all of those experiences as stepping stones to empower myself. There's so many ways young girls can be (taken advantage of), if you're being told what to do or what to say by people who are 'supposed' to know more than you/what's best for you and it doesn't feel right, then don't do it. I had to let go of a lot, forgive a lot of people without expecting an 'I'm sorry', forgive myself, love myself, trust myself, trust where I'm going. You can't live life mad at the things that already happened or that you didn't want to happen. You have to own up to them and do better.

You've dealt with words like "urban" and "vixen" being attached to you in very divisive ways, particularly after doing hip hop videos. Tell us about your experience being labeled and put into boxes.

Yaris Sanchez: Definitely, l experience it all the time and it's like, I'm not ashamed of any of it, all art forms transcend. Every opportunity is a door opening. I just don't understand, why label me and then try to keep me there? There's so much more I want to venture off into, I'm still exploring.

You've definitely deviated from many of the gender roles forced upon women, even while being inundated with judgement and unsavory online comments for doing so. Why is forging your own path to fulfillment so important?

Yaris Sanchez: First off, I think everyone deserves to live in a world where they feel they have a place, 'good girl' or not, gay, transgender, black, white, a social introvert or extrovert, it goes on. However, the world/society isn't going to create a path/place for you, you have to do that on your own by being comfortable in your own skin. Being okay with being 'flawed' and being 'great' at the same time. So I think if you are a 'good girl' that's great, and if you're not, that's great too. I just personally think be happy with who you are and everything will fall into place.

For those who encounter your work, what would you like them to take away?

Yaris Sanchez: For everyone that comes across my work – of any race, of any gender, of any body type – the message is simple: If you feel something within that's trying to get out, let it out. Do not be afraid of learning new things and stepping out of your comfort zone. Comfort is just what you get used to, the human body is intelligent and it always adapts.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?

Yaris Sanchez: Right now, I'm studying method acting at an institute here in NYC, so for the future I'm looking forward to being a part of great bodies of work in the film and television industry.