Interview - Cindy Ashton

Beat the Odds. Gain Personal Power.

Cindy Ashton

Cindy Ashton was born to be on stage and she was also born to die. She has an amazing backstory that she has brought through her years to the stage, and now she helps individuals and businesses grow through acceptance and understanding their own invisible challenges and how to liberate their voices and come forth and be their very best. Cindy received the highest call to Service Award from former US President, Barack Obama. She’s received the Diamond Jubilee medal from Queen Elizabeth II from England. She is an author, a keynote speaker, a professional opera singer, and an actress. She has studied with Second City and the Royal Conservatory of Music. She’s been featured in Inc Magazine, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and Forbes. 
She’s also the award-winning TV host of Cindy Uncorked!  One very interesting episode illustrates the crux of what she brings. Cindy Ashton is this beautiful woman, a powerful woman she has been seen on a red carpet at the Oscars, interviewing stars. But what you don’t see is what’s hidden. Hidden beneath all this beauty and glamour and those are the scars of her youth and growing up and invisible disability. And she brought this to the forefront in an award-winning episode that she ran on her show, which was called the “Body Shaming” episode for which she won the 2018 bronze Tony Award. On that episode, Cindy allowed people to see her scars, literally, wrapped across her body. 
Cindy knew as a fetus swimming in her mom’s belly that she was meant to be on stages and on screen, and to entertain the world and teach the world, but she spent ⅓ of her childhood in and out of hospitals and underwent multiple surgeries. At 14 the doctor told her to ”keep enjoying your life because you’re going to be gone”
Cindy, now in her mid-40s now refers to herself as “a really cute cockroach you can’t kill.” But her voice didn’t matter as she was growing up. Her boundaries didn’t matter.  She was treated like a specimen – and received no assistance because she did not “appear disabled.”  One teacher in her youth demanded she take off her shirt in class to display her heart surgery scar, but that did not give her sympathy it made her a target of bullying.  
She was rejected from University for her grades being ” 2% low.”  She then applied as disabled, since she had spent 1/3 of education in a hospital missed 1/3 of my education, but there were no protocols for invisible disability or invisible illness and so she was rejected for that consideration as well.
But being pushed down has only ever given Cindy Ashton strength. It has been her life’s mission to liberate her own voice by studying speaking voice, body language, messaging, storytelling, presence, energy, trauma, stress management, and psychology.  Now she shares that knowledge in keynote presentations and stage performances dedicated to liberating the voices of her clients and her audiences.
Just prior to the COVID shutdown in the US, Cindy premiered her one woman show “Liberate Your Voice” in New York City.  The show follows her journey of chronic illness in a light and funny way.  While she found some stories of illness as well as abuse and violation tough to tell, She managed to share the serious messages with song and laughter. As an artist, Cindy feels it is her job to relay truths that are human and impact the lives of her audience on a bigger level. 
Cindy tends to speak to organizations that are about developing people, developing culture, and developing diversity. She also presents keynotes to the medical community and works individually with medical professionals.  Especially with appointments being online, Cindy helps doctors brand themselves and also “humanize”- whether that means communication skills or creating a “Tik Tok image”.  How can they appear more human, and more accessible? 
Listen to the whole interview with Cindy Ashton, speaker, author, singer, actress, invisibly disabled.

Full Interview-

Transcription

Hi, I’m Li Hayes, the founder of Goleeward and today I’m bringing you another amazing speaker, who I support. Cindy Ashton, was born to be on stage and she was also born to die. She has an amazing backstory that she has brought through her years to the stage, and now she helps individuals and businesses grow through acceptance and understanding their own invisible challenges and how to liberate their voices and come forth and be the very best so before we let Cindy say anything I want to give you a little bit about her accomplishments and what brings her here today. So I’m gonna start with some of the big ones, Cindy received the highest call to Service Award from the former US President Barack Obama. She’s received the Diamond Jubilee medal from Queen Elizabeth II from England. She herself is Canadian that’s where the English tie-in is. She is an author, she’s a speaker. She is a professional opera singer and actress. She has studied with Second City, and the Royal Conservatory of Music. She’s been featured in Ink Magazine, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and Forbes. She’s an award winning TV host of Cindy uncorked and one very interesting episode which I really, I really loved. I think it’s a crux of what she brings. And here you have the Cindy Ashton who’s this beautiful woman a powerful woman she has been seen on the red carpet the Oscars, interviewing stars. But what you don’t see is what’s hidden. Hidden beneath all this beauty and glamour and those are the scars of her youth and growing up and invisible disability. And she brought this to the forefront in an award winning episode that she ran on her show, which was called the body shaming episode. She won the 2018 bronze Tony Award, along side CBS News I mean it was a it was a large show. And I think it brought so much to the forefront. I love that show Cindy I’m going to start there that you came out and said, you know, here I am. Everything looks great and I think so many of the people who watched you are always putting on this face of “here I am, I’m great,” but beneath the surface there are surface there are personal challenges or physical disabilities or mental disabilities. There are all these things that we always, we as a people need to overcome, and we show that face, and you allowed people inside to say look, “here are my scars,” literally, wrapped across your body and you have overcome and you shine and your voice has been liberated and now you help others, so welcome here I want to hear something from you. Can you start at the beginning? You had a tough childhood.
Thank you for that introduction. Thank you for my Down with Body Shaming episode. Yeah, so, I knew as a fetus swimming in my mom’s belly that I was meant to be on stages and on screen, and you know, entertain the world and teach the world and when I was born, I was born ready to die. I was born with heart failure and a 20% chance of living and the left side of my body had structural damage to the point where I had to cast my legs straight so that they would grow out straight and be able to hopefully walk and let alone go on and dance. And I had speech therapy to learn how to speak let alone go on to sing opera and musical theater and all of these other things I’ve done and throughout my childhood, I spent ⅓ of my childhood in and out of hospitals and multiple surgeries. Even after my last surgery at 14 The doctor said “Well, you’re gonna need a 4th heart surgery, keep enjoying your life because you’re going to be gone” well I’m mid-40s now and I’m still here. I’m like a really cute cockroach you can’t kill. One of the things that’s super challenging in addition to all that is that when somebody can’t see the illness, what ends up happening is that they can’t hear you when you advocate for yourself. If I was in a wheelchair, it would be obvious that I needed help. And because I have this effervescent energy and personality. When I say, I’m sorry I need to leave now or, I’m sorry I can’t do this I need to rest. People are like “you look fine”, or “don’t be such a drama queen,” “you’re such an actress,” and even growing up in a hospital. You are like a number. I was invisible I would be in a hospital bed, and I was at a teaching hospital, so there will be all these residents and the doctors, standing there while I’m lying there wide awake, “see that thing on the screen, somebody died with that about last week, and she’s a very fine specimen for you to look at.” And I still remember that day where I was so tired of ten other residents touching me. And I said “doctor, I don’t want the residents, I don’t want the student doctors touching me.” He said “You don’t have a choice.”
it’s because you were a specimen.
Because I was a specimen. My voice didn’t matter growing up. My boundaries didn’t matter, my “no” didn’t matter, my cries for help didn’t matter. When I applied for University, my grades were 2% low. I applied as disabled, and they said sorry, you’re rejected, you’re not disabled. and I’m like are you kidding me? I spent 1/3 of education in a hospital that I missed 1/3 of my education, nobody got me tutors, they didn’t think I’d survive so why bother educating her. So, there was no protocols for invisible disability, invisible illness, and it has been my life’s mission to liberate my own voice and find the courage and the power to be able to do it despite not being seen and heard and shut down and silenced and shamed. It has been my life mission to help others to do it and I spent my entire life studying speaking voice, body language, messaging, storytelling, presence, energy, trauma, stress management, anything psychology, anything that could possibly stand in way, in your power, letting your voice be heard, and so it has literally been my life dedication to liberate my own voice and help my clients and my audiences liberate theirs.
So I’d like to talk about your show for a minute. Just before COVID started.. You opened your premiere one woman show in New York City. I was privileged enough to get to New York to see, you know, full house it was absolutely fantastic. What was just tell me a little bit about how you’re able to form a message to help others about liberating their voices, it was just I mean that your show’s a wonderful comedic poignant performance song and story. Where did that come from and how does it help others? How does it help your audience?
Yeah. So it’s one of the things about being an artist. Our job is to come from the deepest place of truth, which I think artists, I think true artists are very great people because you’re having a look at really hard stuff. And for me, I wanted to write this show because even if it’s not living with an invisible illness. Every single person and every single human on this planet feels invisible in some way, whether it’s the husband or the wife, who’s always hearing Oh my God, you’ve got the best marriage meanwhile they’re dying inside. Whether it’s the person you’ve got to be the big CEO, making a million dollars a year. Oh my God It’s amazing all your success, you’re so lucky, meanwhile, they’re dying inside because they’re not living their passion. We all live with something that’s invisible where we don’t feel like we have a voice. So, the show follows my own journey of chronic illness but I’m constantly relating it back to the audience where they feel invisible and the big challenge in crafting the show is how the frick do you make chronic illness funny? I don’t know if you remember that story, what happened when I was in the classroom and a teacher and I just had surgery and I have this big scar coming here that was big and red and protruding, and the teacher, demanded that I take my shirt off to show the class and I refused and I was in the corner with a dunce cap until I succumbed, and literally had to take off my clothes. And then I got beaten down on the playground for being a freak, so, how do you make something that’s essentially, I almost want to say assault, but it was an assault but it’s a form of violation, it was a violation. I was abused and it was a violation which then caused more physical abuse and mental abuse so you know how do you take something that heavy and make it funny. And that was probably the hardest part of the whole show… I mean, I made a lot of stuff funny. That was the one that took me months to figure out how to, how do you make that funny, and I ended up when I watched it back it ended up being one of the funniest parts of the whole show and I was like okay I did it. I mean as an artist, our job is to relay truths that are human, that we all feels because where artists helps you as the audience to feel on a deeper level to laugh out loud, it gives a healing that helps the audience to feel like they’re seen and heard and that is my intention whether singing or speaking or doing a show or coaching a client. My job is to help them to feel seen and heard because when they feel seen and heard. They can have a better impact in their life and that spreads out which changes the world on a bigger level
and I think it can help their lives and it helps business. I know you also do quite a bit with businesses, being able to present themselves to brand themselves. Can you talk to me a little bit about the assistance that you give to entrepreneurs on branding themselves or being their brands.
I love that because when people say oh, you’re a speaker coach, well technically but I feel like what I do is much bigger because for me when I’m working with a client, I’m looking at what’s the overall brand, what’s the brand experience, because as a presenter, whether you’re on the phone or on zoom when you’re in person, networking presenting, whatever you’re doing in your business, it’s not just about speaking voice and body language, obviously I teach, but it’s about the brand experience especially since COVID hit, your values, brand experience, customer journey. All these are really important so as a presentation trainer. I’m really looking at what, what, what’s your overview for next year. What do you want to accomplish what’s your experience what’s your brand feel? What is the values that you’re bringing out in the world because people, more than anything, buy because of values, especially today, they buy from people they like and feel alignment with. And once they know about and it’s like okay now we know that if I’m going to build a speech for you I’m gonna build a speech that makes sure that the social responsibility to Black Lives Matters important to you, that we are going to attract that client. if I know that being health conscious is important to your audience, even if you’re not selling healthy fruit for example, I’m going to make sure that you’re attracting the right people, So I find that so when I’m doing a speech or body language or any of those pieces. It’s about a level of Truth and alignment because you can go to any coach, and they can say oh I can teach you to articulate more or I need you to not cross your arms. They give you the basic stuff. I’m going to the level of what do you want to accomplish what’s the bigger impact you want to be in the world, and how do we embody that in your own body in your voice in your body language and how you do things, in your communication and how you make people feel because it’s about a deeper connection than just being polished. At this point, if you’re too polished, you’re turning people off. So I really look at it as an overall how you are presenting all of you and all of your brand, so you really are in alignment and getting the best results possible.
And this works wonderfully for people obviously who run their own business or represent a larger, you know, a larger brand or a company. I know your message is good for corporate it’s good for small business it’s got a broad appeal because everyone needs to in today’s market, be the brand, be authentic, connect with the customer, who’s one of your favorite audiences who’d be in the audience who you feel you’d really connect with?
the same corporate real estate and financial services are signing something I’ve worked in all these industries. It’s more about their values, the people that I love to work with and have consistently attracted, are the people who are socially conscious, spiritually conscious, health conscious, they are the people who are very philanthropic with their business and give back to the world. They’re very people-forward, people-first people and businesses. They tend to be more about the values but they’re also people who are very high energy, and for whatever reason 90% of them are world travelers who love dogs. I don’t mean that when I’m out speaking because you get a variety of people, but within organizations I tend to get organizations or organizations that are about developing people developing culture developing diversity. Because those are my values. You know, so, for me it’s not so much about real estate, which I do a lot of or financial services or whatever a science or whatever, it’s more about the alignment of the brand values that we connect on and the people that I work with, it’s about truly changing the world, even if their world is a community. They’re really about service and changing the world in a better place with what they do
With the world, like what you said, it doesn’t have to be the entire world, it could be their world
Yeah, like my realtor just wants to change the DC area, for example, they’re in DC. I have a client right now and she’s in Madison, Wisconsin. She’s not just doing commercial real estate, she’s all about beautifying her city. So when she’s working as a realtor. She’s also really working with developers and working with clients who want to create works of art with their real estate, but something’s more beautiful and contributes to the community, and it’s different than a realtor, commercial real estate just working to “here’s a piece of land for your business”, she’s, she has a real specific niche that she’s about giving back to her city and beautifying the city, like the people that me and my team are with are about making change whether it’s a small community or all the way up to the world.
And I know one group of people you’ve worked with, I think it’s just interesting, is in the medical community so I know you’ve worked with the doctors and practice owners and check, correct me if I’m wrong I think part of the issue with some doctors is they feel they need to practice the healing, but they don’t necessarily try to make the connection with the patient and their marketing lacks because they feel that I’m a dentist, come to me if you’ve a tooth problem versus trying to relate and create connections to bring people in, how do you help those people, medical practices, chiropractic, dental, medical, how do you make impact on them?
Yeah, and I love working that field because I grew up with doctors who didn’t get it. I get to teach them to be people with other people. You know, in terms of a marketing piece, especially since COVID They’re no longer the chiropractic offices are no longer at the health fair or the local street fair. They’re not able to go out and market themselves as much. And so now they’re online. For them it’s about whether it’s a chiropractor or medical doctors, it’s about humanizing it, it’s about again, even though you know because of so many legal regulations with medical, but what is that brand experience? how can you make yourself more human? I think about my gynecologist I love him. He is super awesome. Right. It’s awesome. Like he’s awesome because he sees me as a person. He’s a lot of fun and he posts crazy things on social media. But he makes himself human and relatable. So when I’m working and I often work with my business partner Christina JC(?) is a great PR strategist, we’re working on, you’re already a human being, you already have interests when you have a personality, How do we bring that out to be human? because right now if you’re not connecting with other human beings, it’s gonna be really hard to build your practice. So again we’re looking at what’s the brand feel? what’s the community? what’s important to the community? what should you be talking about in your community? How can you appear more human in the community and more accessible. And then from a logistical point of view of telemedicine, how to frame yourself.
So, even now a lot of the coaching that comes through for the doctors is, how do you do an effective telemedicine visit and make the other human beings feel comfortable in how you frame yourself. Why do you don’t want to be up against a wall when you’re doing it, why you dont want to have clutter behind, how to eliminate noise and so again because if a lot of patients are going to their insurance companies and they’re losing, and the doctors are losing money right now because we’ve got telemedicine and it’s free. So, if you’re a doctor and I’ve seen it because I’ve seen so many doctor say I’m losing patients because it’s easier to go through insurance and get it for free. If you’re giving them a brand experience and engaging with them online, and being human with them. And if you do your telemedicine visit and it’s exceptional, people will pay the co-pay. Doctors have to master the art of telemedicine, because if you have a great experience, that’s gonna spread, if you have a bad experience, that’s gonna spread. So there are a lot of levels and doctors are under a horrible stress, and that’s another piece, is learning how to breathe and the center which is another thing I’m working a lot with them. of how are you presenting yourself is it your stress is it your calm and your groundedness so there’s so many different aspects that I’ve been working with doctors and it’s fun, and especially because what I’ve been through. I am hopefully helping the medical world
you’ve spent so much time on the other side of the camera, so to speak, and patients,
Literally called a professional patient, I don’t know that I like that label, thanks
As a professional patient, you understand the doctor and that no I think that the service that you’re providing the teaching that you’re doing is so necessary because if no one else you need to feel that your doctor is hearing you and understanding you and connecting with you and they, they struggle to do that in the patient room, even more in a camera. I’ve had Tella visits and it’s difficult so you’re providing quite a service and certainly medical organizations would do well to have you there. So we talked a lot about the value that you bring, and the audiences that you serve and I know you both do workshops, one on one, and Keynote presentations, yeah. But now I’m gonna jump to another part of the interview, I want to learn a little bit about the inside workings of Cindy Ashton. So if you could be anyone else, or anything else for a day. What would that be?
A bird. Imagine the freedom of flying through the air and observing this magnificent planet. And try not to poo on anybody while I’m doing it. That would be the most amazing experience to be able to fly and see the world as far as my wings can take me and perch myself on a tree and observe life, and take a new appreciation when I’m freaking amazing planet we live on. That would be awesome. Just get a different perspective of life.
That would definitely be a different perspective. Flying would be fabulous. Now you’re done a lot of roles yourself, you are an actress, but is there a particular character in the movie or TV that you feel you connect with.
Oh, Mrs. Maisel of course.
Okay, that makes sense cuz she scrapped, to become a stand up comedian right
so yeah I mean what I love about that is, I am very much. Again, Liberate your voice is about breaking boundaries getting yourself seen and heard. And, and on a bigger level having freedom and you know this is like the 1950s 60s, and she is raised upper class side and she is expected to be married and expected to have children and expected to behave, and she’s the least behaved person I understand because I’m the same way I’m pretty not behaved and I’m proud of that. I love that she pushes the boundaries of what women could do back then. I love it when people push boundaries, regardless of the male or female or in between. It doesn’t matter. I love it when people push the boundaries of what’s possible and challenge cultural norms and on top of that, as a role, apparently I’m funny. So to be in a role where I’m not only pushing boundaries. But I’m being funny, I get to wear amazing fashion. I mean, that’s a pretty amazing role to be in.
Yes, indeed.
I think Maisel should have a best friend and they should cast me, just in case somebody is watching.
in case there’s a producer watching, she’s your woman. All right. Is there a particular word that you like, what’s your favorite word?
Delicious.
Ooh, I like the sound of that. Delicious. And is there a sound that you especially like?
That’s a good question. I would say just the simple. (sings) Aaahhh…. Oh, and just breathing it into the world, and letting it be heard.
Okay so last question, where will you be one year from now, today, what will you be doing?
Excellent question. I’m going to be doing the same thing for the most part, I’m gonna be working with my clients, performing my one-woman show, a mixture of singing and speaking stuff. And then from a performing standpoint, I’m going to be going out soon by summer to start auditioning for film and television so I’m excited to see what film and TV shows I’m in. I have new music coming out for a potential new album. No one’s doing albums anymore but I have a bunch of songs written, I’ll be releasing music so yeah I’m gonna be doing some singing, some acting, and working with clients and doing my one-woman show, and speaking but there’s really not a lot of change,
But it sounds like though, in one year, today, you’re gonna be on stage. That’s where you’ll be.
Thank you so much Cindy Ashton for joining today. Hope everybody enjoyed that if you want to learn about getting Cindy Ashton on your stage in front of your audience, please check out, goleeward.com And I will get you connected with her.
You’re my woman.
Bye, everybody.