Starting her career as a DJ, TV presenter and model, mum-of-one Ashley James is now a well-known feminist, activist and empowerment coach, commenting on social topics and issues faced by women and mothers. With an Instagram following of over 300k and after her own battles with bullying and body dysmorphia, she regularly campaigns about mental health and body positivity issues, providing a realistic, honest space for her online community.
This month, we’re excited for Ashley to be The Edit’s guest editor to discuss some of the topics closest to her heart. To kick things off, we caught up with Ashley on all things motherhood, career and wellbeing.
Welcome to The Edit! You’re our first guest editor and we’re so excited to have you. Tell us a little more about you.
Aww, thanks! I'm honoured to be your first guest editor! Well, my name's Ashley James. I'm a presenter and DJ and I suppose my most important role is that I'm a mum to Alfie who has just turned one! I can't believe I'm a mum to a one-year-old!
My TV and DJ career has seen me providing the latest entertainment news on Good Morning Britain, discussing daily new topics on the Jeremy Vine Show or travelling the world and lighting up dance floors for some of the most exclusive events, festivals and world-famous brands including Coca Cola, Samsung, Dior, Smirnoff, and Rimmel.
With that in mind, motherhood has definitely been the most challenging and rewarding job, and certainly the most permanent! I've definitely grown as a person, found really beautiful moments, as well as some really dark ones. Not to mention how challenging I've found juggling my job and Alfie in a pandemic!
You’re mum to Alfie, who’s just gorgeous! What’s the best thing about being a mum?
The best thing without a doubt is watching a person grow and develop from scratch and seeing them experience life for the very first time. It's so magical and such a privilege. It's really made me see the joy in so many things I took for granted! For example, he absolutely loves birds and animals. We spent a lot of time going for walks because of all the lockdowns and getting to see his joy when he saw birds, dogs or even the blossom or leaves turning orange – it kind of made me stop and think: you're right, these things are so beautiful.
There's also something quite nostalgic about being a parent. I've really loved taking him swimming every week and seeing what he loves and what he finds scary, and it has made me remember or wonder about my own swimming lessons as a child. It's like we get to do it all over again, through their eyes!
It's funny because I used to say I didn't like children (before I had one) and now I really can't imagine thinking of saying that!
You’ve been very honest about the highs and lows of parenting. After the craziness of motherhood, Christmas and 2021 in general, how are you feeling now?
I can honestly say for the first time in months that I feel really good. I am happy. And there were long periods that I didn't think I'd ever feel happiness again.
I'd say from when Alf was about four months old to about 11 months old I was really, really struggling and had some incredibly dark thoughts. Honestly, I was worried I might have made a mistake and that I wasn't cut out for motherhood! But actually, I think I was just absolutely exhausted, incredibly overwhelmed by the change that not only motherhood, but the pandemic had brought into my life, and I missed my previous life. Also, we moved out of London to have more space, and actually whilst it's a great thing, it made me really lonely.
I've always found it important to be honest and authentic online, and so my journey with motherhood has been no different. I think it's really important to be honest about the difficulties because it makes you realise that you aren't alone and brings the most supportive community. It sounds silly but the people who choose to follow me have become my friends more so than ever with motherhood. They've encouraged, supported and helped me through a lot of it and reminded me that the difficult moments will pass.
We fully support your campaign to ‘normalise’ breastfeeding. What’s the biggest thing you hope to change for mothers out there?
Thank you! It makes me so sad that breastfeeding is still so hugely misunderstood and judged in our society. I mean, arguably that's what our boobs are for! And yet there is still so much judgement, or sense that breastfeeding is an intimate and private activity. I think people totally underestimate how time consuming it is, especially at the beginning and especially if you choose to feed on demand and for comfort as I did and many others do.
If we only fed in the comfort of our own home we'd never be able to leave. But also, why should we hide away or be made to feel ashamed when we are doing something as important as feeding a child? Whether you feed a baby with a breast or a bottle it should be treated the same.
I've had big boobs since I was 13 years old and have been made to feel judged and ashamed my entire life, so breastfeeding is just an extension of that, and I'm here to say that our boobs and the size of them are not our morals. Plus, breastfeeding is so challenging already, we should be supported and encouraged. Especially knowing all the health benefits it provides for mother and babies.
I'd love for the education around it to be better so people didn't make ignorant comments and I'd love for the support to be better so women could make empowered choices with feeding and only stop when they wanted to. In Germany for example, you get free access to lactation consultants!
Our focus on The Edit this month is wellbeing. What can our readers expect from your next article later this month?
Without giving too much away, I want to focus on our bodies. That will cover everything from the postnatal recovery and all the pressures and stigmas surrounding it (not to mention the psychological pressures you go through) and how to embrace your body. I personally loathe the discourse around bouncing back and I also think it totally simplifies the postnatal recovery. Most of us aren't thinking of the baby weight whilst dealing with scars, prolapses, piles, and sleep deprivation. I wish society would be kinder and treat our bodies with more respect. We should be being worshipped and cared for, not critiqued on our appearance. But anyway, more on that next time…
What are you looking forward to most in 2022?
Honestly, hopefully just getting to enjoy it all more. I am really starting to see Alf's personality come to life and that's a really joyful thing. It's exciting to know we have milestones ahead like his walking and talking (although he already says several words). But also, I feel like I'm not fighting against motherhood anymore, and I have my ducks more in a row!
I'm also excited to focus more on my career and can't wait to get back behind those DJ decks and see people dance again!