Guest Artist Series: Q&A with Ashton Long, Founder of The Authentic Woman Series
Ok, I'm so excited to share this with you today on International Women's Day! I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the most awesome girl bosses I know - Ashton Long, the founder of The Authentic Woman.
The Authentic Woman is an interactive book series that is awakening the confidence, identity and bravery in women. It empowers women to live authentically as themselves, discover their purpose and be a catalyst for positive change in the world. This is so much more than just a book. It’s an interactive book series that is specifically designed to create lasting impact by providing prompts for reflection and immediate application. Think book meets magazine meets self-help guide! It’s compiled of real women sharing real stories because authenticity is kind of their motto!
I am so honored to have contributed to Volume II, Bravery Rising, which is being released TODAY! More on my contribution later; right now I want to introduce you to the woman who is empowering other women, Ashton Long.
TAY: Hey, Ashton! For my readers who don't know who you are, would you introduce yourself
AL: My name is Ashton Long, and I'm the founder of The Authentic Woman. I believe wholeheartedly in empowering women to live authentically as themselves, discover their purpose and be a catalyst for positive change in the world. I'm an east coast gal with an insane amount of love for the mountains. My most ideal moment takes place in a forest somewhere with a warm cup of coffee in my hand, journal in my lap, and my soon to be husband by my side. I'm fueled by coffee, pottery, succulents, and travel. I'm getting married in eleven days, and I couldn't be more excited!
TAY: Ok, you already answer, but I wanted to ask you, coffee or tea and why!
AL: COFFEE. Always and forever coffee. I vividly remember starting college in the fall of 2012, and I had yet to discover the wonder embodied in one little, tiny, warm beverage. Leave it to college to create a life-long obsession (arguably addiction). People often ask me why I'm so obsessed with coffee. It isn't the drink itself or its affects on my body. It's the experience. It's going to a local coffee shop, filled with the smell of freshly ground coffee, indie music in the background, and latte art in front of your eyes. In my mind, a day's work isn't complete without a cup of coffee.
TAY: I so agree with you! Speaking of college, I'm fascinated by hearing the origin story of other artists. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer? Do you only write nonfiction, or are there other genres that you explore?
AL: Writing isn't something that I can trace back to a single moment. It's a passion that I discovered over time. My mom was always an incredible artist, and I was constantly annoyed at how excellent her doodles looked beside my stick figures. While my mom painted and my sister played guitar, I wrote. I've always had an obsession with journals. At one point in my life, I was writing in about five at one time (each serving a different purpose). I have numerous journals stashed away that are filled with my life, teenage emotions fueled by raging hormones, prose, occasional brain dumps, confessions and stories. I've always found comfort in writing. The pages were always the best listeners.
I've always gravitated toward writing nonfiction simply because it's where I find my comfort during times of sadness, anxiety, and insecurity. I've always been one to write out my feelings, lessons, and life stories in hopes that they will inspire, encourage, and empower another human being.
TAY: Same. I don't write a ton anymore, but I've always leaned toward writing about my life. How did you go from there to The Authentic Woman? Was there another book along the way that I don't know about?
After graduating college, I did some work as an office assistant. I remember sitting at my desk, staring at the computer and thinking to myself, "What can you give the world? What passion could you tap into in order to feel like you're living for a purpose?" I was tired of my days amounting to filing paperwork, learning payroll, and creating excel documents. So I started a blog called Altogether Beautiful. As this journey unfolded, I realized that my vision was so much bigger than just a blog. I realized the need in society for women to realize the truth of who they are. Because when we know who we are and we aren't afraid to be just that, we walk in such authority and power. There's so many unrealistic expectations women are expected to live up to, and I wanted to build a community where women could create a new standard...a community where women know they belong, have room to discover their purpose, live authentically as themselves and be a catalyst for positive change in the world. I also knew that this would require so much more than myself...It was meant to be a community. So, from this desire, The Authentic Woman was birthed.
TAY: One of your messages in The Authentic Woman Volume I is that none of the women in the volume were airbrushed or edited to look different than their real selves. I have a history with anorexia, so I really appreciated that and it drew me to your work. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to include that in your work?
I often tell this story of when I was in 9th grade - just a little 14 year old girl trying to find her place in the world. I received a Victoria's Secret magazine, flipped through the pages, and subconsciously made this book my ultimate standard of beauty. Tall, tan, curvy, skinny, toned, shiny, classy, airbrushed...perfect. I decided in that moment to keep this magazine stashed away, and any time I considered consuming carbs or skipping a workout, I would pull this book out to get "motivated." Keep in mind, I was VERY healthy and actually very small. But there was something so intriguing about this idea of "perfection."
As I've grown in age, I've become so passionate, concerned, and even angry about the standards women are expected to meet concerning their bodies. And although I'm still on my own journey of body-confidence, I want to take part in transforming these unrealistic standards...I want to be a voice that speaks truth and a person that portrays true, authentic, un-edited images. It's vital in changing the standard.
TAY: Yes! One of the things I learned in treatment for anorexia was that I would probably not ever stop having doubts about my body, but what was important was to view it as a process. There won't be a day when everything changes for me - it's a lifelong process of practicing self-acceptance. I love that you're helping women like me on this journey, and it's more impactful that you yourself understand the struggle.
The theme of Volume II is Bravery Rising. How did you come up with that title and topic? I know I speak for all of the painters here when I say that titles aren't easy.
AL: Titles are often the hardest part of anything! With The Authentic Woman everything is action-based. So, every section inside is a verb (this volume features Wake, Overcome, and Dare), and the title of the volumes are verbs. This didn't happen intentionally. I simply noticed this theme with the first issue and wanted to make it permanent. Since we are all about making positive change, impact and transformation over at TAW, action-based titles just made sense...because any change requires action. I knew this issue was going to be about bravery, so I sat down at my computer and typed out a page or two of possible titles, all of which included verbs that I found online. Bravery Rising just stuck with me...It felt profound, meaningful, and powerful.
TAY: It definitely is. It is also profound that you are releasing Volume II today, on International Women's Day. Can you tell us about one or two of your heroines?
AL: (This is actually so funny to me because it wasn't planned, yet it is so fitting. Sometimes, irony can be so beautiful). I will share two of my heroines (although it's hard to keep this concise).
One of my favorite heroines from history is Rosa Parks. I admire her because of her courage, boldness, bravery, and stubbornness. Let's be honest, Rosa Parks was down right tired of seeing African Americans looked down upon...But I think also, is that she was simply tired. Perhaps Rosa refused to get out of her seat simply because she was tired from a long day's work. I doubt she knew what would follow her unexpected refusal...yet, one act of bravery sparked a movement that led to equal rights for African Americans all over the world.
Another one of my heroines from the present is Jenna Kutcher. If you don't follow her on Instagram, you totally should. Jenna has a way of making you feel like you belong, but even more than that, you are here for a purpose. She shares openly about her infertility journey, body-image issues, business success and failures and everything in between. I admire her dearly for her honesty, transparency and servant heart. She is a true gem!
TAY: One of my heroines is Frida Kahlo. She poured so much of herself into her paintings - the pain, the joy, the reality. I thought about her a lot last summer when I was painting self-portraits in Puebla City, Mexico.
I can barely imagine all of the work it takes to build a book like The Authentic Woman. Tell us some of the struggles you ran into while working on Volume II, and what helped you get through them.
AL: I love this question because I think so often we think that our dream job is going to be all rainbows, unicorns and dreamy days working from home at the perfect desk with a beautiful latte...But even our dream jobs require us to do work that we don't necessarily want to do. Creating a book is so much more than writing for it and piecing it together. It requires creating the outline, finding contributors, scheduling meet-ups for photoshoots, editing the pictures, investing in graphic design courses, creating promotional content, figuring out how to advertise and so much more (this is just skimming the surface). Also, keep in mind that The Authentic Woman is my side-hustle. I am also working a part-time job in the midst of all of this.
Volume II presented quite a few struggles, but there's on that really stands out...considering it was our worst nightmare. A few days ago the books arrived at our house in extremely poor condition. Almost half of the books were completely destroyed (thanks FedEx), and the other half had fuzzy covers. I was mortified. Not only had I invested a lot of money into these books, but people had already pre-ordered and gotten excited about the release. Luckily, I got in touch with the printing company, and they quickly agreed to replace our entire order at no extra cost to us. *HUGE sigh of relief*
TAY: OMG. That sounds like literally the worst thing ever! But now you've gotten through that - it's like with panic attacks, I'm like "ok well now it's over and everything goes up from here!" Haha! But look at you HANDLING that situation! Major girl boss props.
Also, you're seriously one of the most productive people I know. How do you stay organized and productive? Give us some tips!
AL: Oh wow, that means so much. Thank you! I've always been a very organized person. Messy rooms and cluttered closets are serious fears of mine (haha). A few ways I stay organized are as follows:
- LISTS. I use lists all the time. At the beginning of each week, I write out a list of things that take priority that week. I break them down into small tasks to complete and go from there.
- I use a written calendar. I love having the month laid out before me where I can write out all of the important due dates, appointments, etc. It really helps me stay on top of things.
- I use a really amazing planner. This year I started using the Cultivate What Matters Planner, and it has changed my life.
TAY: I'm personally a huge fan of Passion Planner and have been using it for about two years now. I agree that having a written system has been really helpful for me. I like the concept of Google cal, but honestly I never update it and I forget things until the day of.
Ok, switching gears back to the creativity portion of your job, but I know that this is something my readers deal with often. Have you ever encountered imposter syndrome? If so, how do you move past it? Do you think we ever get over it?
AL: YES. I think every business owner, content creator, artist and human being experiences this feeling at some point. After all, there are millions of people roaming the earth with amazing ideas, and at least one of them does something similar to you. It's easy to fall into the rabbit hole of imposter syndrome, but the truth is (and you've probably heard this at least a million times in your life) that no one is you. This means that no one can create something exactly the way you would, and there's so much comfort and beauty in that.
TAY: I so agree. I actually held back from sharing my artistic process for so long because I was paranoid that if I showed people how I painted, they would copy me. But just like someone would find it hard to perfectly imitate my literal voice, they would find it hard to imitate my artist's voice. I decided to start teaching and sharing, because those actions come from a place of abundance instead of hiding it, which comes from place of fear.
I think a lot of us have an unsung hero (our partner) behind our success in our creative pursuits. For instance, my husband John is my unofficial CFO and he definitely takes a ton of Boomerangs for Instagram! Tell us about your fiancé's role in TAW.
AL: I LOVE this question because behind any successful business is another brilliant human being(s) with extraordinary talents, ideas, and strengths. The truth is that The Authentic Woman wouldn't exist without my fiancé, Josh. He created the website, does all the graphic design, manages the technological side of the business, and is my sounding board for everything. Although the idea, heart and vision of TAW came from my heart, the business only materialized with Josh's help, and I am forever grateful to him for it!
TAY: What plans do you two have for moving forward into Volume III?
AL: Volume III is already in the works. It has a title, full outline, and even some signed on contributors. I can't reveal too much, but the next issue is going to be about identity - discovering it, being confident in it, and empowering others to discover their own. It's going to be pretty magical.
TAY: Amazing! Well, where can we get our hands on Volume II?
AL: You can grab your copy of Volume II: Bravery Rising on our website right now. :)