A Chat with my TikTok Inspiration: Torchy Swinson

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Madonna. Cher. Gisele. There are a few iconic people who are so famous that they are only referred to by their first name. And then there’s Torchy, an amazing TikTok celebrity who just happens to be 82 years old. Her stories are funny, wistful, dramatic, and inspiring; she embodies everything I love about social media.

She is my inspiration, so I had to reach out to get an interview. I asked her how she got started, what she loves about social media, and her advice for the younger generation. If you love the interview below, you’ll love her TikToks as much as I do.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get into Tiktok?
I was a stay-at-home mom for 22 years, and then [my husband and I] went into business for 39 years. My husband had Alzheimer’s, so we had to sell the business and took care of him for three years. [I] moved him into a memory care [facility] and he only lived eight months and passed away in 2019. My two oldest great-granddaughters were in dance, and they had cute little routines that they did on TikTok. They wanted me to watch their little dances, and I said, “I don’t have TikTok.” They said: “We’ll fix you up.” And they got me started on it. Then they told me I had to make a video. So I told a silly joke just to have a video. And I didn’t go back to my page for months. And then one day I did, and I thought, well, I’ll just do something else. I don’t even remember what I did, but I put in a few and then I read a poem that I wrote because I love to write. The next morning I had a bunch of people following me, and I thought, well this is neat. So I just went from there.

I know that video because I remember seeing it. That’s how you came up on my page I think from that viral video. You were telling a story.
It was that woman that I see in the bathroom mirror looking back at me. And I didn’t recognize myself.

I remember it so well because it literally brought me to tears and I thought, I’m following this woman, who is she? And so that’s what you brought out in everyone, which is beautiful. How does it feel?

I just look in the mirror, and I can’t believe what I see. And that’s what I based the whole poem on. And then, in the end of it, I decided that I’m going to go ahead and like this old woman because she’s me. The last line is something like, “I’ll be my friend. This old lady is me.”

You started to receive comments. But I’m sure you probably get mostly positive comments.
I’ve been really lucky. I probably have had less than five hateful remarks. And I don’t even delete them. I just go ahead and pass over them.

So that moment that you realized you were becoming a TikTok superstar, I’m sure your family was overwhelmed as well. What were you thinking at that time?
You see, Helen, I don’t think of myself like that. I really don’t. I’m in awe of you. And people like all the big creators, I’m in awe of them. I never ever think of myself in that category because that’s just not me.

What does your family think about it?
All of them think it’s great, but my daughters and my grandkids are really crazy about it. I was under the impression that my son wasn’t happy about it, so I didn’t ever talk to him about it. And then one day, he said, “Mom,” he said, “I just want you to know something. I’m very proud that you’re on social media.” He said, “The girls and I were afraid that when [my husband] passed away that you’d just crumble and fall and you wouldn’t, and you’d be next.” And he said, “I’m just very proud.”

So I think it’s interesting because you’re in a generation that does not generally embrace technology.
Helen, I bet there’s not but one other resident that lives in my building that knows anything about social media, and the [only one is] my neighbor across the hall. Now the staff, they’re all crazy about it. They follow me and everything. But as far as the residents here, I don’t think there’s probably more than one, maybe two that are on social media.

Do you think they have no interest? Do you think they’re embarrassed? What do you think the reason is that they are not?
I don’t think they’re aware of it really. It’s just not our generation’s thing because we come from dialing telephones. Really, I came from party line telephones when our first telephone was party line when I was about, I think I was about 10. We had a telephone, and that was 1950.

Do you think you have evolved since you first started on social media? Because I’m going to say recently I noticed you doing some trends and I was like, “Oh my gosh. Torch is stepping it up.”
See, I don’t know how to do a lot of that stuff, but one day I thought, “Well, I just try it. And if it doesn’t work, I can always delete it.” So now I’ve picked up several things that I’ve gotten a little better. And yesterday, the girl that handles all the internet stuff for our campus here came and helped me get my iPhone straightened out. I was having trouble because I got a new iPhone and a new iPad and she got it all straightened out. And she showed me one or two things that helped me because I didn’t know how to hashtag; I didn’t know how to put anybody’s name down there. And so I’m experimenting a little bit and learning a little bit. But I think I’ll learn something, every couple of weeks I’ll learn something new and try it out. If it doesn’t work, I can always delete it. And I have several that didn’t work right.

Let’s talk about filters for a second. Because a lot of people tell me, “I can’t record out of my out of TikTok because I need the filters.” And I’m like, “You could just be who you are.” So I feel I purposely, I’m recording with my regular camera, and I’m never using filters on my videos. We can both advise young people about just being who you are and accepting yourself. Because the minute you start putting filters on, when you look in the mirror, you’re not going to be happy with who you are.
That’s so true. And if you don’t like yourself, you’re not going to like anybody else.

When you give advice, you always say, I want to tell you something. You started doing that at the beginning of your videos. And I like that because then it’s like: “What is she going to tell me today?’ When you start sharing these personal stories, do you feel that they are reaching younger people? Do you hope to reach younger people so that they can appreciate their youth now?
I guess I just want to tell them to enjoy their youth, enjoy every step of it. Because every step is wonderful. I loved being seen as a young teenager. I love being a young married woman. I love being a mother, a young mother. I loved being a grandmother. Oh yes. And now I’m really loving being 82 years old. I never thought I’d say that. I never thought I’d say I like myself this much.

It’s a really beautiful thing. You made a video that also stayed with me, which is don’t wish your life away. Like, “Oh, I wish, I can’t wait for this.” Don’t wait your life away. We always can’t wait for this, and we can’t wait for that. And then the moment now is passing us.
Exactly. Everything you do, it always seems like, “Oh, I wish I’d do that. I wish I’d had that. I wish…” Even this morning I got up a little early because I wanted to be sure and have everything ready when you did call. And I was saying, “Agh, I wish I hadn’t done this now.” I said, “You silly thing, don’t do that.” And so I said, “Gosh, I’m glad she’s going to call; this will be a fun day.”

Coming down the elevator from the dining room upstairs, a lot of times I’ll come down, and I’ll think, “Oh gosh, I wish that, I wish this.” And then, I say, “Torchy, stop wishing. You’re in a beautiful home. You’ve got everything you need. You’ve got a beautiful family, and you’ve got friends. Stop wishing.” And I stop. I do. I talk to myself all the time.

I love that. So what’s your plan now? What are your plans as you go forward with your social media life? Do you ever think about it or do you just live it in a moment, day to day? Do you ever think about it?
I really just live in the moment. I have in my notes on my iPad, I’ve got, well over 250 ideas of stories or things that I want to talk about. So when I decide to make a video, I’ll go to that or something will remind me. I’ll see something on social media that I’ll think, “Oh, I need to do that.” And that’s not because it’s important, but it just makes me feel good. But if I like to talk about it, I talk about it.

I would just want to say, you’ve been inspirational to me. It’s been the coolest thing to just be able to follow along as you grow your account and realize that people are just loving you for being you. And that we all have, at any age, the potential to impact thousands of people. And you’ve done that.
Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.
Oh gosh. I’ve loved it. I really have. I’m not nervous, but I was thinking, what will I say? And then I thought, oh, she’ll lead me into it.

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