Asheton Brown wants – and in a sense, needs – to get your attention.
And the 27-year-old fitness enthusiast clearly thinks the best way to get your attention is to post photos of herself running around Charlotte (often in rather skimpy clothing) on her Instagram account.
Does she have your attention yet? She hopes so: Because for Brown – known to her followers as “Smasheton,” a nickname given to her by a kindergarten teacher – attention can translate quickly to income.
We’ll get to that.
By the way, we realize some of you are already rolling your eyes; for all of Instagram’s popularity, it’s certainly regarded by some as an endless stream of vapid selfies and unchecked narcissism. But there’s also no denying the social media app’s influence, and on Thursday evening, Brown eclipsed 20,000 followers, putting her in the top tier of fitness-focused Instagrammers in Charlotte.
Anyway, we sat down with “Smasheton” for an interview earlier this winter to try to see past the public facade and unpack the method to this particular influencer’s social media madness. Here’s what we learned.
She states in her bio that – in addition to being an athlete, coach and influencer – she’s a model. She’s walked runways at local fashion shows, but says there’s one thing keeping her from really breaking out in the business. Rather, about five things – five inches. “I’m 5-5, so I’m not really tall enough to in theory be a model. Agencies constantly are like, ‘We love your look, but can you grow a few inches?’ I’m just like, ‘Sorry, I’m 27. I’m not gonna grow.’ ”
She also states in her Instagram bio that she’s a unicorn. Here’s why: “I have this bump on my forehead from when I was younger and I would accidentally hit my head on the corner of this microwave stand, over and over again. That’s what it’s from. The scar tissue pretty much calcified into bone on my forehead. It has nothing to do with me thinking I’m magical or whatever; it’s literally, this is why I’m a unicorn.”
Oh, in case you were wondering, the answer is yes – she does like attention. “I’ve always been a ham, and in your face, and a drama queen.”
So is that why she seems to thrust her abs in our faces in seemingly every other photo she posts? Nope, she says. Especially in the winter, “I’m a furnace when I run – straight up, I’m a furnace. I will start off in layers and they just start to come off. I overheat instantly. So if I’m in a sports bra and shorts, it’s because that’s what my body temperature has dictated. Am I going to put my clothes back on when I’m all sweaty just for the photo? No! ’Cause, gross. Do you know how hard it is to put a sticky shirt back on? Look, I’m not trying to objectify anything. It’s purely a comfort thing.”
But hey, let’s get totally serious about body image for a second. “Growing up – having been a dancer and a gymnast and a swimmer – I wasn’t taught to hate my body, and I wasn’t taught that it was a problem to be comfortable with it. And I’m not calling myself a professional athlete, but if you look at all the top runners, they’re running in shorts and a sports bra for their training runs, and no one apologizes for it or makes excuses for it. I’m not gonna apologize for being comfortable. I wish people would just focus on the message.”
And what exactly is the message she’s trying to convey through her posts? Take Thursday’s post, for example (which accompanied a shot of her running along a greenway boardwalk in a sports bra and short-shorts): “Humans: no matter how crazy life gets, in your brain or otherwise, movement will always bring you back to your passion. And a little sunshine doesn’t hurt either.” Among her most commonly used hashtags? #runtoinspire, #smashyourhappy, #nevergiveup and, of course, #abs. “It’s about sharing my story and inspiring people, about being positive and finding that awesomeness within everything that you’re doing. I’ll get messages from women saying, ‘Thank you for posting today. I wasn’t going to go do my run, but now I’m going to because I saw your photo. You always look like you’re having fun on your runs, and it makes me wanna go run.’ I want to show that running is fun. And even if running isn’t your thing, it’s going and doing your workout, whatever that workout is for you.”
We have to admit, she’s really gotten the “running selfie” down to an art form. The vast majority of the photos in her feed show her running somewhere in Charlotte, both feet off the ground, her pony-tailed waist-length hair flying behind or above her head. She takes them herself, using an iPhone that she tucks into the back of her sports bra and an app that features a self-timer and a burst mode. It can look strange to passersby: a young woman running, stopping, fiddling with her phone, running, stopping fiddling with her phone. “But I don’t get self-conscious. I’m working! It’s a job for me.”
Well, sort of. If she could only figure out how to make a steadier income off of those photos... The 2011 graduate of Elon University currently isn’t employed in a steady job. She’s a certified running and swimming coach and has a few paying clients, and “occasionally gets a few hundred dollars from a small trust fund.” She says she could charge between $200-$750 for a single sponsored post on her feed, depending on a variety of factors; but at present, she says, she has no deals. (Last year, her Instagram-related income totaled “in the thousands.”) She’s turned down several offers in recent months from companies that wanted her to hawk their products but were only offering free products, not cash. But she has a hard and fast rule: “I don’t work for free.” So, sometimes paying the rent on her tiny studio apartment near Midtown can get tricky. “There was a time recently where I had to pick between doing something I wanted to do and eating. I chose eating. This is why I get frustrated with brands coming to me, saying, ‘We love what you’re doing, but...’ I’m like, ‘Well, guys, I gotta eat. I work out a lot, so I’m hungry. A lot.”