Not every feminist is able to pinpoint their awakening, so to speak, but Leaf can. She was 16 when an “unpleasant” sexual experience left her feeling confused and taken advantage of. “I stopped having sex altogether and I just started reading books,” she says. She’d sit in Barnes & Noble all day, which is where she discovered Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety. “It talked about how women are allowed to have sex, how we’re allowed to be sexually pleased, what the difference is between sex that makes you comfortable and sex that makes you uncomfortable,” Leaf says. It was an eye-opener about how crucial it is for girls to understand and own this aspect of their lives. “I mean, in places like Africa they cut off the woman’s clitoris because they don’t want her to know what it feels like to be sexually pleased. That just shows you how powerful we are. You’re that afraid of us, that if we get to our climax we’ll just start running shit, so you just cut off our clits from jump? When they say ‘pussy power’ it’s not a joke, it’s real!”
Sitting at the head of the communal table we’re sharing with some sunburned tourists, Leaf is wearing acid-bleached jeans, knee-high brown boots, and a white, off-the-shoulder cowl-neck top. Her long hair is dyed a fiery reddish-orange with blonde undertones, her eyebrows are bleached, and her face is completely bare. The only thing superficially sparkling is the tiny diamond on her top left incisor. A slight peach fuzz glints on her upper lip, and it’s far from unintentional. “I stopped wearing makeup because I don’t want girls to feel like they always have to wear makeup, and I stopped waxing my mustache ‘cause I just don’t want girls to feel like their body hair is [wrong],” she says, and then pauses and cocks her head. “Will you do me a favor and Shazam this song?” she asks. “I like this bass line, sorry.”
Her apology is unnecessary. She’s already mentioned that she never stops creating, and that inspiration often comes at the most awkward of times (she has a phone full of voice notes to prove it). And the fact that the song emanating from the restaurant speakers—Toro y Moi’s “Lilly”—caught her ear while she was mid-sentence is indicative of the diversity of her influences. Her personal icons include both Janet Jackson and Coco Chanel, and her musical inspirations range from Prince and Sade to Gwen Stefani and Little Dragon.