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."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.