She Built a Following as Taylor Swift’s Doppelgänger. Then the Swifties Came After Her

Lifestyle

Earlier this month, Ashley Leechin, a registered nurse, mom of two kids, and TikTok creator known for her uncanny resemblance to Taylor Swift, posted a Change.org petition on her page. “This petition shares me side [sic] & is to help stop cyber bullying, harassment & false defamation towards myself, Ashley Leechin, as well as others,” she wrote.

In the petition, Leechin, who has 1.1 million followers on TikTok, addressed a laundry list of allegations that people have leveled against her on the platform, such as that she voted for Trump (she is a registered Democrat), or that she got plastic surgery to look more like Taylor (though she did acknowledge she has gotten Botox and filler). The lengthy petition also denied claims she “stole” Taylor Swift’s favorite number, 13 (her birthday is on the 13th, though not in December, as Swift’s is); or that she adopted cats that look “exactly the same as Taylor’s cats”; or that she holds her pen the same particular way Taylor Swift does on purpose. “I hold my pen in such a manner that brings comfort, which releases direct pressure off the median nerve,” she wrote. 

The petition may have been intended to shut down Leechin’s haters, who have long accused her of being a “pathological liar” obsessed with Swift. Instead, as is often the case on the internet, it had the opposite effect. “Her name is Ashley Leechin because she’s LEECHIN’ off Taylor’s career!,” wrote one Swiftie on Twitter in response to the petition. Another wrote: “Has anybody called her the Swiftie George Santos yet?” 

For years, Leechin has walked a tenuous line in the Swiftie community, making content that largely focuses on her life as a Taylor Swift lookalike, wearing bright red lipstick (Swift’s signature look) and showcasing her kitten Sloan — a dead ringer for Swift’s cat Meredith Grey — in her videos. (Her username, “noitsAshley13,” is a nod to what she tells Swifties who stop her on the street.) Though she has built an enormous platform off looking like Swift, she denies that she goes out of her way to emulate her style, or even that she sees the resemblance herself. “I don’t look in the mirror and think ‘Holy cow, I look like Taylor.’ It’s just Ashley,’” she says. 

Leechin’s appearance, especially as she denies the similarities, has enraged Swift fans. This was exacerbated earlier this month, when Leechin announced that she had “partnered with the Grammys” to attend the awards ceremony, only to later post that her invitation had been revoked for unspecified reasons. Leechin posted multiple videos corroborating her story that the media brand Sweety High had offered her a ticket to the Grammys, only to rescind it without explanation when her plane was on the tarmac in Los Angeles. (Sweety High did not respond to a request for comment.) Yet Swifties still refused to believe her, with many calling her version of events a “crap story” and some even calling for her to be removed from TikTok entirely.

The ensuing online shitstorm — particularly a handful of Swifties’ comparisons to Yolanda Saldívar, the obsessed fan who murdered Latina pop star Selena in 1995 — prompted Leechin to post her petition; it also shone light on the complex nature of fandom and the impact of Leechin’s very specific brand of content, where the line between fan, artist, and creator is increasingly, and arguably intentionally, blurred. Her ongoing treatment on TikTok has made her think deeply about her relationship with the Swiftie fandom, she says. 

“A lot of the Swifties I have encountered don’t stand by what Taylor Swift stands by,” Leechin tells Rolling Stone. “Randomly bullying [someone] — I feel like Taylor Swift wouldn’t condone that type of behavior.”

Leechin has adored Taylor Swift since she was in middle school, she says, remembering hearing 2006’s “Tim McGraw” for the first time at her childhood home. “I think I lived vicariously through some of her moments, especially listening to ‘The Best Day,’” Leechin says, referring to the song Swift wrote in honor of her mother. Leechin’s childhood was difficult, she says, and “seeing her relationship to her mom, and me not having that with my mom. I just loved her lyrics. Love.” The day after Swift commented on one of Leechin’s videos, saying that her mom had commented on their resemblance to each other, Leechin made a video in which she, with visible emotion, thanked Swift’s mother for being “like a mother that I never had.” (Swifties later cited this video as evidence of her supposed obsession with Swift.) 

Leechin has long been mistaken for the pop star. When she was 13, she says, a modeling agent stopped her on the street and said she looked like Taylor. Her hair was long and blonde at the time, as it was during Taylor’s Speak Now era, and though Leechin says she did not see the resemblance (“I think I looked more like Kirsten Dunst. A mix of her and Scarlett Johansson”), the comparisons kept coming. When she became a registered nurse in 2019, she says that people would regularly confuse her for Swift. “I’d wear a mask and goggles and regular PPE,” she says. “And I’d still get it. They’d be like, is Taylor my nurse? Am I being punked?”

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. It was a dark time for Leechin, leading to exhaustion and burnout. “You are taking care of someone about to be put on a [ventilator]. You feel like every day when you go into work you work harder to save that patient,” she says. “Realizing you can’t save everyone, you have to take a step back and do something different in the field or take a break in general.”

Like many people during the height of the pandemic, Leechin downloaded TikTok as a fun distraction. At first, she primarily posted relatable #momtok content, such as a Christmastime video captioned, “That moment when you realize the kids are quiet and you left the closet open where the presents are.” As people commented on her strong resemblance, however, she made more and more videos using Taylor Swift audios, as well as videos poking fun at it. In one video, she puts on sunglasses and pretends to go to Target, referencing how people would say “Oh, my God, it’s Taylor,” as she walked by. “It went viral overnight,” she says. 

At first, Swifties seemed tickled by Leechin’s posts, particularly after Swift herself commented on one of Leechin’s videos, saying that her mother had remarked on her lookalike status. (Although Swifties would later deny Leechin’s resemblance to Swift, jokingly saying she looks more like Joan Rivers, that claim is a bit disingenuous: when Leechin is in full Red-era makeup, the two are virtually indistinguishable.) 

But then the backlash surrounding Leechin started to build. Not only would Leechin regularly wear her hair like Swift or put on dark red lipstick, she’d also make videos alluding to having interests similar to Swift’s, such as a love of cats and Grey’s Anatomy. (Leechin denies she got a cat to be more like Taylor: “I’ve had cats all my life.”) She made one TikTok video where she toured Swift’s old Cornelia Street apartment, which would later be cited as further evidence of her alleged obsession, though it’s a common pilgrimage for Swifties. She also started an account on Cameo, though she says she later stopped because the demand became “overwhelming.” 

Part of why Swifties are so irritated with Leechin is because she strongly denies actively trying to look like Swift, even though she does her hair and makeup in a manner reminiscent of the pop star. Pressing Leechin on this can be frustrating. “If I gravitated toward Marilyn Monroe or Taylor, and utilized that for your everyday look, that’s not looking like someone,” she says. “You’re drawing inspiration from a celebrity. Which we all do.” She has also repeatedly asserted her eyes are brown while Taylor’s are blue — a fact she often cites to support her contention that nobody could ever possibly mistake her for Swift, much to the chagrin of Swifties.

By all reasonable measures, Leechin’s brand is being a Taylor Swift impersonator, though she denies being able to effectively monetize this, saying she regularly turns down potentially lucrative lookalike gigs. “I can’t really say you make money off TikTok,” she says. “You really don’t. You make enough to buy a coffee.” When she has done Cameos or accepted impersonation gigs in the past, it has led to “personality issues,” she says. “If I wanted to be a full time Taylor Swift impersonator I could actually make a career out of it. But I have chosen not to. I just feel like it’s not me,” she says.

It’s unclear, then, what exactly Leechin was expecting when she reportedly received an offer last month from the Gen Z media brand Sweety High to attend the Grammys. According to Leechin, a representative from Sweety High had told her they were “partnering” with the Grammys, and that they wanted to invite her to the awards show, asking her to create a number of videos, including a Get Ready With Me post and a red carpet post, to promote the brand. They did not offer to reimburse her for her airfare or lodging, Leechin says, which  in retrospect should have been a red flag, but “I said, ‘Hey tickets are usually $10,000-plus. Why not just take the free ticket and the experience?’”

While she was on the tarmac in Los Angeles, Leechin claims, she received a call from a Sweety High representative saying her ticket to the Grammy’s had been revoked, for reasons that she did not explain further. “It got very hostile,” she says. “That’s why I started to speak out about it.” 

Leechin started calling out Sweety High on TikTok, posting screengrabs of email exchanges between her and the brand to corroborate her story. She did this, she says, to explain to her followers why she was not attending the Grammys as promised. But Swift fans started accusing Leechin of being a stalker, to the degree that she would buy a ticket cross-country to try to crash the Grammys. (Swift’s team also did not respond to a request for comment.) Many Swifties have claimed that if Swift became aware of Leechin’s content, she would find it “creepy.” When I ask Leechin how she would feel if that were indeed the case, she is quiet for a moment. “It hurts. It does,” she says. “Some Swifties can be very cruel. It’s someone you look up to and respect. [But] it’s just words.” 

Despite all the hate she gets, and despite how disquieting many Swifties find her content, Leechin says she doesn’t intend to stop making it. Nor, for that matter, does she say she would change her look in order to avoid attracting hate on the internet. “I don’t see that resemblance. I just see myself,” she says. “I don’t think I would change myself.” She says she is increasingly realizing that due to her large following, she can monetize her own social media presence — being “just Ashley” — more than she can monetize being a Taylor Swift lookalike. She is trying to get work as a background actor, though she says it requires a lot of work sending in self-tapes. “I am not obsessed with Taylor at all,” she says. “I get confused when people call me a stalker or obsessed. I like her music, I love her style. I’m not gonna wear her or go out and get a singing career or buy a guitar. That’s not me.”

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In one of her more recent videos, Leechin doesn’t lip-sync to a Swift song; instead, she dances to “I Think I’m In Love,” by a lesser-known Taylor, singer Taylor Acorn. But her hair is still in a long bob like Swift during her “Shake It Off” era, and she’s still donning the signature red lip. The top comment: “Joan Rivers!”

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