Entering the Personal World of James and Ashley Young
An interview focusing on the daily lives and interests of James and Ashley Young (follow part 1 of the interview to see their opinions on different aspects of technology and how it has impacted them)
About James and Ashley
James Young is a presenter and model who lost his arm and leg in an accident in 2012. A space and video game enthusiast, he is very active on social media. He is married to Ashley Young, and they have a young daughter. He first rose to fame by winning a competition by the Japanese gaming company Konami to design a highly-advanced and interactive bionic arm.
Ashley Young is from Orlando, Florida, and moved to the UK 2 years ago with her husband, James Young. Ashley is a mum, model and actor, and has been the front cover of Boots Health and Beauty Magazine. As well as having a large following on Instagram and Tiktok where she shares her career, personal life and limb difference story, Ashley is also a very vocal ambassador of the Lucky Fin Project.
You’ve both been part of really cool projects and you’ve had really large careers. Do you think there are any interests or careers you'd like to pursue in the future?
James: For sure, I don’t know what that stems from. Maybe it’s to do with how lots of things aren’t good here [on Earth] for a lot of people; but then again, space is an adverse environment, the same way that disabled people experience things differently [on Earth] and that could provide us with the opportunity to find solutions to develop technology that can improve things here on Earth, so I find that really interesting.
[...]I don't know how I am going to enter the world of space, but I’d love to explore it and talk to people about it. It’s so curious to think of things like the human body existing in space. [...] I’d love to do more.
If you had to pick a couple of your favourite games that you enjoy playing at home, which ones would they be?
James: Oh boy! Gaming… that’s a tough one to answer and you don’t want to restrict yourself in those things. I feel like as a person, I am quite distractible and I think the things I have enjoyed recently are Last of Us II, because it is just a stunningly emotional experience and I was just so absorbed in that game. I enjoy that there were unconventional gender stereotypes and sexualities. That honestly encouraged me to play it, probably more than I should admit, but I just wanted to support it for that reason.
Just playing it, I was so into it: it was just incredible, so I think I'm always after stories. I used to play socially with my friends, but that’s kind of stepped away from my life. There is so much scheduling involved as an adult to be able to meet up with people in real life, let alone online, so I just enjoy my time with my family and friends around me, and get involved in stories as an art form.
What’s your favourite thing about modelling, and do you think it has influenced the kinds of clothes or makeup you might buy?
Ashley: I would say my favourite thing about modelling is meeting new people all the time - the makeup artist, the hair stylist, the photographers and everyone are just this really amazing community of people. Everyone has a story and I’ll usually share my whole life in a matter of 30 minutes. Sitting in the makeup chair and just learning about people is quite fun-just connecting with people.
Another thing I really enjoy is being this person on this particular platform for other people to see, like kids who may not think that they can do a specific career path because of their limb difference. I like to put myself out there just to pave a path for them.
I’ve done a lot of e-commerce for Amazon and I’ve worn a lot of different outfits and I feel like I am trying to branch out. It does help me with makeup, seeing what looks good on me, how to do my makeup and watching the makeup artists do things that make my eye shape look great. I definitely learn a lot from them.
James: Has it changed my fashion style? No. I have had this t-shirt for probably a decade or more and that’s probably the state of most of my wardrobe. It is really a challenge when I get job requests like ‘can you wear this or this,’ because I can but [the clothing] is really tattered and ancient. It is so curious that we are so interested in how our limbs look and the colours on [the prosthetic limb] and then I just wear a trash t-shirt.
Ashley: It’s really funny when people ask us if we can send parts of our wardrobe through for commercials; [because] for us, it’s the same 5 shirts and 2 pairs of trousers. [I feel] like ‘this is what I have, it would be great if you could dress me [instead].’ I have had the same stylist for three jobs now and on the third job she was like, ‘bring these trousers and don’t worry, I’ll do the rest.’ I’ll do the commercial and [just say fine].
Everything I own is quite dark and dreary. I wear a lot of black, grey and dark red [but] for acting and modelling, they want really nice and bright colours to look nice on camera, so [that contrast] is interesting.
I do want to get more into the cyberpunk style. I feel like it is very cool, the forward fashion, style punk vibe. I just don’t know, being a mum [makes it harder]. [There’s a] weird conflict of wearing something cool and going to a parent meet-up at a park, because I am not ready to turn up in giant platform boots and crazy leather outfits. I would, but I have a very limited amount of time to get [my daughter] dressed before she is in a really cute flower outfit and then I am there wearing all black. It’s hard. Being a parent changes the fashion vibe.
On your Instagram bio, you wrote ‘I don’t want to live as an untold story’. Is there a message behind it?
Ashley: Of course, it is one of my favourite songs! I think music is something that influences a lot of what I do, and I’ll kind of fall in love with an artist, get obsessed and really listen to everything they have ever made for many years. It is just one of my favourite songs and that quote really speaks to me, because I don’t want to be someone that someone doesn’t remember in a [certain] way. I just want to live to be my true self and tell people about it.
James: There are also a lot of song lyrics on her twitter, no one knows what’s going on.
Ashley, you are an ambassador for the Lucky Fin Project. What do you think is your favourite part about working there?
Ashley: My favourite part about working with Lucky Fin Project is definitely the next generation of kids. For me, the Lucky Fin Project is all about seeing yourself and having a connection with other people who share the same limb difference, the same situations you’re in. For me, I think the most important thing is just the connection with people and making sure that the next generation of kids know that they’re not by themselves and that they have people to look up to and to talk to if they ever have a struggle with anything.
James: I think, because I have been to Lucky Fin Project as well, it’s really nice, you see all these kids running around, being themselves at whatever age in their childhood, but it’s such a useful resource for parents, because they have concerns, and as a parent of a child, your life is flipped upside down; it’s all about them, and these people. If they have their kids born with a limb difference or they’ve had something happen like meningitis or an infection that’s changed the amount of limbs they have, the parents are really worried, and they just have concern about how the kid’s going to live their life.
The Lucky Fin Project really connects those people together and allows them to see that, ‘Oh yes, things can be done, these people can achieve them easily and these are the tools that you might be able to help them do so. It's an incredible project.
Maybe, is there something that you’ve always wanted to tell people that no one has ever asked you before?
James: What’s your darkest secret, is the re-wording of that question.
Ashley: I don’t know, honestly.
James: I probably would have tweeted it if not. That’s a strange question. It’s almost too open to pin it down. We talk so much all the time, that’s the problem.
Ashley: I think the world knows a lot about us; it's hard to bring up something that someone doesn’t know about us, because we have to put ourselves online and out there. I am very happy most of the time, but when I am down, I am really down, and I think for mental health, it is quite hard to come back up from that. We kind of have to keep this happy face on all the time, because people see people with disabilities, and they think that we are always this positive and inspiring person, which we can be, but we are also humans as well, so a lot of the time, people want to post stories about how amazing their life is, and how they have overcome adversity, but there are a lot of things that we also have struggled with. I recently posted on a forum about feeling left out, being a kid and being bullied and having kids running away from me and calling me really terrible names. As much as I have overcome that certain obstacle, it definitely still affects me in adult life, especially having a kid, and seeing other kids that may not want to play with her because she makes a weird noise or something. I find it really difficult to be put in that situation because of my past and it definitely affects how I parent and how I see things.
I think every parent has a fear of the kid being left out, but for me, it’s a lot. It makes me feel sad, if someone can’t come to her birthday party, I take it quite personally. I definitely think something that affects me in everyday life is how my childhood kind of shaped me into fear. Maybe that’s my thing of turning no’s into yes’s.
James: I have been thinking about it more, the thing that people should know about me. As I had an accident that sort of changed my life, it is frustrating, when people say their disabilities have been solved. But things that people should know about me is that I have been thrust into the public realm. Something that frustrates me when my story is presented to the world is that technology is the solution to fix disability. A lot of people are really established in their disability and when, to whatever percentage of the personality it is, we live this life every day and we face these struggles, we figure out ways to do things. I talked to Tram Anh about this before, seeing me at CogX, and I was wearing this arm, and it [seemed like], ‘oh he’s almost found a solution to his problem.’ I was outside in the hot weather, and it was barely functional because I was sweating so much in this big carbon-fibre thing, so it was almost a hindrance at that point to be wearing it, because it was slowing me down and making me overheat; it is not always how it appears all the time when you see technology presented as a solution to a problem; it is never a definite thing and there is always variability to it, a time and a place, so it is something people should be delicate about. We all have hidden disabilities in the world.
Everybody will face disability in some way, whether it is to someone they know or to themselves, so it is good to be careful about thinking you can cure people’s illnesses and presenting that to the world as a story. Just be a kind human about it.
This interview was conducted in collaboration with Tram Anh Nguyen, the co-founder of CFTE, after she met James at the Cogx festival (https://cogx.live/) in London. CFTE is the centre for finance, technology and entrepreneurship, which delivers courses and programs from leaders and companies of different sectors in the aim of empowering professionals and students and equipping them with all the necessary skills in a rapidly evolving technological world. It has formed an online campus of its learners and alumni and has collaborated with many universities and governments across the world to make sure no one falls behind.
A message from interviewer Quynh An and Dorian: Thank you so much James and Ashley, it has been an honour to meet and interview you, we’ve learnt so much and it was an incredible experience. We hope to see you and your daughter again soon! Also, thank you so much to Tram Anh, without whom this interview would never have taken place.