Ashley Longshore, 42
Artist and Entrepreneur
Ashley Longshore is as unapologetic as they come. Known for her raw artistic talent and a penchant for the ridiculous, this fearless innovator has built a name for herself on social media and in the art world. “We can be our own worst enemy,” says Longshore, who counts amongst her client base (and close friends) the likes of Salma Hayek and Blake Lively. “You have to have self love and be your own best friend when you are in business because it’s hard man, it’s hard out there.” The painter’s greatest achievement has been to inspire other people to to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I feel like you don’t necessarily choose a career path. A career path chooses you if you allow yourself to have plenty of experiences when you are younger. That is why education is so important. Maybe I wouldn’t have known that I was a great oceanographer if I didn’t take oceanography. Maybe I wouldn’t have known that I was a good astronome. I had such a great liberal arts education and I always learned so much. I was always so expressive that fortunately one day I found myself painting and I realized I had found exactly what I wanted to do in my life. My greatest achievement thus far has been to inspire other people to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there. No matter what stage we are in success, it’s really so important to have people that you look up to inspire you. And as much as I try to give myself a pep talk every day, I’m really hoping that I have put that energy out in the world and I have given people the ability to know that they can really accomplish anything.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Uh yes. I was told that I couldn’t do things because I was a girl or a southern girl or my daddy wasn’t as wealthy as a Rockefeller. I think we have to acknowledge the fact that these aren’t always things that people are saying, these are also things we are telling ourselves. We can be our own worst enemy.
This is why I preach so much that you really must have lots of self love and be your own best friend when you are in business because it’s hard man, it’s hard out there.
"My greatest achievement thus far has been to inspire other people to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I mean, the biggest limitation has been the structure of the art industry. I mean, me as an artist I always thought it was so ridiculous to work with galleries, to give off 50 percent of your sale. The business model just seems so antiquated. But also being a woman in the art world has been a limitation.
I constantly feel like a woman’s take on life isn’t valued as much as a man’s take. I don’t know if it’s because women are naturally more expressive and more analytical so when a man is able to do that, it is worth more. That’s been a really hard thing being a woman in the art industry. Will I be as successful as Jeff Koons? Will I be able to have a multi-million dollar company and have the capital to create any of my wildest imaginations, which I think is any artist’s dream? I think as you become more successful, you realize that you are just a human on this planet.
It’s not about male or female. It’s about being a person with a vision and putting yourself out there. And again, that constant pep talk of put down the grilled cheese sandwich. Girl you are a bad ass, you have everything you need. I love me some me kind of situation.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
First of all, everybody says you can’t do it. People always talk about why things are so hard or so difficult. But really, for me in my own life, it’s not why you can’t do it, it’s why you can do it. Something else that can really fuel your fire is being broke and not being able to support yourself. The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel. If somebody would have written me a check, or if I had married some rich guy that was like “oh go open a gallery,” well that’s fun and great, but not the same as making it for yourself. When this is your future, past, and present, there is a real sense of urgency to make sure that you are kind to yourself while working as hard as you possibly can. The same goes for mean girls who said I would never amount to anything. It’s funny when they say living well is the best revenge. Not that anything is really about revenge, but it is absolutely sweet when you start to have success and you are grateful and have a lot of self-love. It is incredible.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Well first of all, you can’t think about preconceived notions and society’s limitations. You have to understand that if you are going to be an entrepreneur and be successful, you really have to be your own universe. You have to be your own entity. You have to absolutely believe in yourself. You have to believe in the endless possibilities of being successful, of knowing that you can do it. You have to be a racehorse with blinders on. You have got to mind your own business, keep your nose to the grindstone and hustle hard than you have ever imagined. And that’s really how you do it.
"You have to understand that if you are going to be an entrepreneur and be successful, you really have to be your own universe. You have to be your own entity."
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."