Scrolling through @ashley_Graves's Instagram, it’s easy to think – “Wow this girl has the perfect life”.
From the POV of her feed, she is undeniably gorgeous, always traveling the world and constantly doing cool stuff with her equally undeniably gorgeous friends.
But in our second edition of #BehindTheFeed, the model shows that, regardless of how quote-unquote perfect your life looks on the outside -- finding happiness is an inside job. Below Graves opens up honestly about overcoming loneliness, her distaste for social media and her journey with mental wellness.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m from a small country town outside of Seattle, Washington called Duvall. I am currently a model and have been for 6 years.
My career started at about 15 when I was scouted a Katy Perry concert. Some lady ran up to me and my family as we were waiting in line to get into the concert and insisted she get our info, saying I was beautiful and had so much potential to model. My mom and I looked at each other and laughed, thinking, “This lady is crazy”.
If you could see me back then -- you would understand. I was awkward, did not know how to dress or do my hair and makeup, and was probably wearing about 5 lbs. of black eyeliner.
Anyway, after weeks of calling us every other day, trying to get us to come to a casting call they were holding, we finally agreed to come in to meet her and the executives at the modeling agency. It turned out that out of 60 girls that got scouted, I was the last and only model that they wanted to sign.
The fact that I was the only model they were interested in at the time, got me really excited. I began to think, “maybe there is something special I’ve never noticed about myself”. After that, I signed a contract and it was a straight dive into the overwhelming world of modeling.
“I’m glad I took the risk – it helped me grow up, learn and become a person who’s not scared of social interaction or new situations where I have no one to rely on but myself”.
I say overwhelming because when it comes to modeling -- there’s no instruction manual. There’s no school, no one tells you what to do, you literally just have to figure it out. I was so young and had no idea what was going on, but I was definitely excited. Eventually this turned into my career by the time I was ready to graduate high school. I was working all the time, making great money, and my photos just continued to get better. After that, I realized I wanted to pursue modeling full time -- which meant I wouldn’t be going to college after I graduated.
This caused drama in my family for a short period of time. My mom was fully supportive, but my dad who was usually super supportive, was hesitant about the fact that I wouldn’t be going to college. Thankfully, he finally agreed and we packed everything up into the car drove down to LA with our family motorhome in tow.
Although I was signed to a really cool agency down there, I was absolutely terrified -- I had never lived on my own, never lived anywhere beside the house I grew up in, knew no one in LA, didn’t have a single friend and realized early on that it would be lonely af.
For the first three months, other than the occasional photo shoot team, I didn’t meet any friends. I was by myself and I was SO lonely.
Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that this is something that happens a lot, every time you move to a new city. Loneliness is inevitable. You don’t always have a friend in every new city. The one good thing about it is that it pushes you out of your comfort zone. You have to get out there, be kind, be social, make conversation -- in order to not feel that loneliness.
“ I find myself getting sucked in and looking at everybody’s ‘amazing’ lives, forgetting that Instagram is just a place to post all the good things”.
Finally, after the three months, I met some really nice girls and we hit it off. It was really a turning point for me -- my proudest achievement to date is definitely how many places in the world I’ve visited, all the insane experiences I’ve had, and all the amazing people I’ve met along the way. I’m naturally a very shy person who has a hard time opening up and making friends, so moving to a completely new city every month or two isn’t easy -- but modeling has 100% helped me to put myself out there.
I’m glad I took the risk and moved to LA. It really helped me grow up, learn, and become a person who is not scared of social interaction or new situations where I have no one to rely on but myself. I’ve carried that first experience in LA with myself ever since.
Now every time I worry about a move to a new city, I remember how hard I thought it was back then. Then, I remind myself that I already overcame it once and look, everything turned out to be better than I could’ve ever dreamed.
Social media: fan or foe?
FOE. Major foe. I get in arguments with people about this all the time.
Trust me, I see the benefits of it. For some, it’s great for business. For others, it’s an expression of themselves or a way to meet people -- I get that, but I believe it is the worst thing for our generation’s mental health.
The number one reason I say this is because I’ve seen first-hand how negatively it affects mine. I find myself getting sucked in and looking at everybody’s ‘amazing’ lives, forgetting that Instagram is just a place to post all the good things. I forget about all my blessings and all the things I should be thankful for when I stalk others and compare my life to theirs -- which is SO not okay. I have to make sure I take weekend hiatuses to keep myself sane.
The thing about social media is, everyone only posts the cool shit: when they’re with friends, going on vacation, booked on a great job, got a new car, fancy lunch, etc. Without Instagram, we wouldn’t be seeing all this -- hence we wouldn’t have so much anxiety about whether we are or are not doing enough or whether we are or are not as good as someone else.
That part of it is so bad!! I hate the effect it has on us because it’s happened to me so so many times. That’s why I don’t like Instagram.
I rely on social media for my career, but honestly I’d rather not have an account. I’d rather be doing something more worthwhile instead of worrying about posting content all the time, comparing myself to others, or opening and closing an app that in reality, means nothing.
“The world we’re living in now-a-days is so fast paced, I feel like people feel guilty when they don’t have anything to do. But, it’s so important to relax, slow your mind down, and take a break”.
How do you relax?
When I am most stressed or overwhelmed, I find that spending time by myself is the best thing for me.
I’m very independent and love to just chill, so staying in is definitely a favorite activity. I find a good movie, have a glass of wine, light some candles, and snuggle in with myself – there’s really nothing like a little TLC.
My comment to others who struggle with this is that you don’t always need to be doing something. The world we’re living in now-a-days is so fast paced, I feel like people feel guilty when they don’t have anything to do. But, it’s so important to relax, slow your mind down, and take a break -- Find time for yourself and just breathe.
How do you focus your mindset day-to-day?
Last summer, I went through a huge rough patch. The one thing I noticed that was getting me down and driving me to the brink of insanity was that subconscious little voice in my head. I felt a complete disconnect from my conscious thought.
I was speaking so poorly to myself, being hard on myself and wasn’t giving myself a break. It was really hard to stop it -- it felt uncontrollable and permanent. After a while I realized that I needed to try and find ways to change my self-talk.
Over the course of a long six months, I began to start controlling the negativity in my head and speaking kindly to myself. It takes practice, but once I began to be nice to myself and be more optimistic, things started changing. The way I interacted with people, my energy, and my happiness completely did a 360. I saw how important reflecting on my self-talk and thinking was for my every day attitude.
Now, I can happily say my mindset day to day is mostly positive -- I am my own best friend. I have power over my mind, it does not have power over me.
It’s still a work in progress, but I guess my best advice would be to love yourself and make a vigorous effort to control that little voice in your head. It really changes everything.