{Ask a Fat Creator} Ashley of Astrobridge Artistry

This is the Body Liberation Photos Ask a Fat Creator (and Allies) series, in which we find out more about the lives, work, and breakfasts of all kinds of large-bodied and marginalized creators and their allies.

This interview is with Ashley Anne Strobridge, a Vermont-based artist who finds inspiration in both the natural world and fantasy. As a fat, disabled vegetarian, she creates whimsical designs in a variety of media that draw on their life experience, and advocates for the accessibility of nature to everyone.

Content note: This piece contains a description of severe illness.

Art, Science, Magic, Nature, Truth, Justice, Music, Love, & Creativity: Through Astrobridge Artistry, I aim to Communicate the Magic & Wonder of Nature, hoping to make the beauty & healing powers of the natural world accessible & inviting to all. As someone w/ multiple disabilities & limited mobility myself, I pride myself on interpreting the inherent beauty of easily accessible Natural places, showing that you don’t need to be able to climb a mountain to enjoy Nature. Whether it is on a dirt road two steps from my car door, on an accessible nature path, or on my own balcony in my “Garden in the Sky!” showing that Nature can be surprisingly accessible is one of main missions.

I also aim to hold up Nature as an inspiration for creativity, because all of us need a place to escape to sometimes, esp in these times, whether through a journey in a book or through a walk in the woods, or both! The links between Fantasy, Magic, Ecology, Nature, Justice, Creativity, Science, and Art are endless, and showing that you can educate about Ecology & Justice Issues while at the same time tapping into Childhood Wonder and Fantasy is yet another of my goals with Astrobridge Artistry.

A social justice & ecoactivist w/ a background & family history in Environmental Policy, I’m an Artist, Photographer, Writer, Performer, & Musician who is Maverick in Gender, and a vegetarian, disabled, FATabulous Woman on a mission to illuminate the Bridge between Nature, Spiritualism, Science, Justice, History, Ecology, Creativity, Literature, Magic & Art, as all are linked in the fabric of the Universe. My current work is whimsical & impactful Nature photography & poetry, with literature, social justice, science, and history tie-ins, available in prints, greetings cards, stickers, bookmarks, buttons, books, & more.

A cow statue in the foreground seems to look at a Greek style building in the background set against a clear sky

Tell me about you! What’s your name? What pronouns do you use? Where do you live? What do you like to eat for breakfast?

My name is Ashley Anne Strobridge, She/They. I live in Montpelier, Vermont, USA, the smallest state capital in the US and proudly the only one without a McDonalds or a Walmart! We support shopping small and local here, and my little home city is like a cross between a Norman Rockwell Painting, an Artist & Writers Retreat, and a Hippy Commune!

If I had my druthers I’d be fixing my Moth’s recipe for scrambled eggs every morning of cottage cheese melted in butter with shredded Cabot Cheddar and my sister’s local hen’s eggs, topped with ketchup and cilantro, but being disabled and needing to take meds first thing in the morning with food, I rarely have time to fix a full meal like that, so it’s usually something faster.

What kind of artwork do you create? What are the themes? What’s your favorite medium?

I create whimsical Nature Photography and Poetry, in themes of Fantasy, Ecology, Social Justice, Family, Literature, History, Magic, and Universal Knowledge. I suppose my favorite medium, which is mainly what I got into art school for, is acrylic painting, but I haven’t had the space to work in that medium for quite some time. I also write and perform music with my guitar, voice, and ukulele.

A closed purple flower showing the veins along the petals

How did you get started as an artist? What has your path looked like so far?

This is a looooooong story. I began life as an artist. One of my earliest memories is drawing murals on my jeans as a toddler, and making of stories about fairies while having tea parties on mossy boulders in the woods with my sisters.

I have done art all my life. From making up songs as a child and singing in Choirs and school musicals in elementary school, middle school, and singing in rock bands and singing and playing guitar as a solo artist in high school, to performing in plays in high school, to running a small creative sewing buisness in high school where I made bell bottoms with gnarly trees climbing up the sides of the pants with branching wrapping around the legs, to making a wondercoat vest out of rainbow 70’s ties, to winning writing contests in middle school and making my bedroom into an art installation in high school, to attending an art high school for senior year and having my art portfolio accepted to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Studio Art Program, which I later learned is one of the best arts programs in the country.

Honestly, there was all that, but in the middle of that, 11th grade, I had a giant breakdown and was hospitalized, and would be again, multiple times, for my bipolar disorder, and later also diagnosed with Complex-PTSD and ADHD.

It took me 7 years to find the right medication, 7 years of living like a hermit in my moms basement. Then when I finally did find the right meds, I was afraid of the creative side of my brain, I finally went to college in 2010, 9 years after graduating high school, but it wasn’t to the arts school I’d be accepted to then, it was to Northern Virginia Community College, where I did photography for a while, which I had also always done in middle and high school, but which to my mind was less about creativity, so seemed safer to me, little did I know I was creating some of my most creative shots of my artistic career at the time.

I ended up deciding to follow in my family’s footsteps (my Mother was a Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was the main expert in the Dept on NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act, which is the basis for the EPA], my father was a Park Ranger who then became the Budget Director for the VT Forest, Parks, and Red Dept of VT Govt, and his father, my grandfather, was a game warden and founded and ran the VT Fish and Wildlife Game Warden program, plus my sister has an environmental law degree and is the Zoning Administrator for the City of Montpelier), and get a BA degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, concentration in Policy and Politics, Minor in Women and Gender Studies, at George Mason University outside DC, where I interned directly under the Advisor to President Obama on Climate Change Communication, and did a ecosystem service valuation of the trees in the City of Fairfax, VA as the City’s Sustainability Intern.

Then after the 2016 election meant that all of the Environmental Policy positions in the Federal Govt were gutted and run by conservatives, I switched gears, and moved home to Vermont in pursuit of some better positions in my field. After a false start at a very unsuitable job, I got a job in Feb 2019 as an Admin Assistant with VT Forestry, and worked there for a year, but the funding for that position ran out after a year, and the day after my boss called me in Feb 2020 to offer me my job back, I got sick with Covid and nearly died. I was sick for three weeks, I could go into more detail, but this is long enough already.

Basically, I survived by the skin of my own teeth, taking care of myself alone in my apt except for my very scared kitty, and with only phone calls from my mom telling me to hydrate and try to rest for care, and deliveries of food to outside my door from family members. There was a 2 day, 3 night period there where I couldn’t even lean back an inch while sitting up or I was drowning in my own mucus and couldn’t breathe at all. I was drinking so much hot liquids that I was getting up to pee every 30 minutes, and had my mom not kept telling me over the phone to do so I’m not sure I would have survived, as we read reports later that when they did autopsies on covid victims, their throats were caked shut with hardened mucus, so I was lucky I stayed home, cause had I gone to the hospital, they never would have been able to keep me hydrated enough to survive.

But now I still have mucus issues, not as bad, but they keep me from returning to office work. Which worked out for the best, as I now am doing what I was always meant to do, ART. The buttoned up work of policy and govt never would have suited me, and I was never truly happy there or and never felt like myself. I’ve now pivoted, and am doing what I was meant to do. But it’s been a rocky start, as with all my disabilities and low income status, I can’t work on it full time, and need to stay on benefits, but also earn enough to survive. My cat is also now disabled and is on insulin twice a day. And I take my meds 3 times a day, so with 5+ alarms going off throughout the day to remind me to eat and take meds, my life is….INTERESTING. LOL. But I muddle through, day by day, and as the Beatles once said, It’s getting better all the time!

Do you incorporate any elements of body positivity or fat acceptance into your work?

Yes. One of my missions is providing accessibility to Nature to those who have trouble gaining access to her benefits in person, whether through disability, lack of conditioning, or body size. I like to illustrate that you can create access to Nature in surprising ways, such as having a potted garden on a balcony, patio, or window flower box, through walking on an accessible Nature trail, or simply through going for drives in the country.

I like to show that you don’t have to have the ability to climb a rocky mountain trail to access the benefits of Nature. And that even if you can’t do any of the above, whether due to financial restraints, disabilities, or due to body size, I like to still provide access to Nature through my words and images, creating a positive escape and way to lower the pressure of every day life by relaxing while enjoying my pieces.

I also incorporate more straight forward Fat Positivity into my work, where one of my cards has the hashtag #FatPhobiaKills on the back of it along with other Progressive hashtags, I’m getting ready to begin doing Fat Fantasy Fairy/Witch photoshoots, and I also use fat positive language in my poetry on several of my cards.

A white woman's hand holds a postcard with a photo of a white flower in a forest; the text reads "I DO believe in Fairies!"

What has your experience been like as a large-bodied or plus-size artist? What have been the high points and low points?

The high points have been meeting other fat positive, fantasy oriented, ecofriendly, and social justice aware folks who appreciate my work and see me for me, without judgement. Low points include limited mobility and pain while out on photoshoots and while vending at events, and lack of accessibility at events and while out on shoots.

Have you felt like your opportunities have been limited or affected by your body size? Have any opportunities opened up for you because of your body size?

Yes, there are certain events I cannot attend because I would not have assistance in set up and take down of my tent and table at the events, and physically I need that assistance. I also have difficulties accessing areas that other photographers can due to their higher mobility. Though I also have lipedema, long hauler covid, joint issues, and other disabilities that play parts separate to just plain fatness.

How did you discover body acceptance or body positivity personally? What kind of difference has it made for you?

Honestly following social media accounts like yours, Lindley, have helped me a lot. Many accounts and authors, in fact, such as Lilith Fury, the Mirnavator, FatDoctor, Ragen Chastain, Sabrina Strings, and many, MANY more, have made all the difference in the world in educating me on the real medical facts about fatness, and how it is NOT a deficiency of any kind, and that it can in fact help you live longer and survive more diseases, and all the truths about how medical schools don’t take fat cadavers and how that leads to a cascade of issues where doctors don’t know how to operate on, treat, or even examine fat bodies, and so that pathologize us, and we die due to their medical malpractice, skewing our morbidity rates, causing the cycle of discrimination and misinformation to start all over again.

It’s really helped my have more self confidence in my body, and conquer the ED that runs in my family, and which was passed on to me in elementary school, and which I brought into my 20’s, but which I am now healing in a cascade up and down the generations of my family. Fat positivity is truly revolutionary.

A postcard showing horses out to pasture and colorful trees in Autumn; the text reads "Vermont"

What advice do you have for other people who are learning to love and accept their bodies?

SURROUND yourself with images of Radiant Fatness! The media and internet try to shove a single image of what it is to be beautiful down our throats, and that image is thin and white and able bodied. But beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, so CURATE your social media to reflect the diversity of beauty in this world. Follow as many plus size and fat influencers and activists as you can find!

Make sure the first and last things you see when you open and close your social media apps are fat bodies, and fat bodies of color, and fat bodies with disabilities, and using mobility aids, and fat bodies out in Nature, and in swimsuits, and EATING NUMMY FOOD. It’s all so important to surround yourself with positive images of Fat people living our lives and being our authentic selves, with no effs given!

Where can we find more of your amazing work? How can we support you?

Go to my website and place an order at www.astrobridge-artistry.com and follow me on Facebook and Instagram. My Mother Tree card & my Moooove Towards Justice card are the two items that are the most fat positive on my site as of right now, but there will be more to come!

Let’s dig deep.

Every Monday, I send out my Body Liberation Guide, a thoughtful email jam-packed with resources for changing the way you see your own body and the bodies you see around you. And it’s free. Let’s change the world together.

Fat professional nerd, office goth, aspiring tax professional, and all around trans weirdo.