Kat Atwell is a freelance writer, blogger & stage presence telling stories that deliver laughs, validation & community.

Mental Health | Wellness & Self Image | Experiential & Reviews

On the Outside — A Guest Post.

Note from Kat: I’m going through some personal stuff right now. So, in the meantime, please enjoy this post from my amazing and beautiful friend, Shawna.


Earlier today, I received head shots for a local show I am part of that are going to be posted on a public website. My reaction? Hysterical crying. I basically reenacted the scene from The Crying Game in my shower. Now, in this case, I wasn’t crying because the person I was fond of had unexpected genitalia, but rather (even worse), I had to come face to face with pictures of myself .

Insert shriek of horror here.

In the moments after my hysterics, I started wondering about why the hell I reacted that way. I am a fairly confident person and remember feeling really sassy when the pictures were taken. Eventually, I had a shining moment of insight which brought awareness to an issue I have struggled with since adolescence….my external self-image.

I texted with a friend and took some moments to reflect, and decided I needed to share my self-image issues with others if I was ever going to truly move past them. So here it goes, my confession:

I have NEVER liked my external self. Ever.

I’ve never thought of myself as pretty, or attractive, or sexy when it comes to my physical appearance. Even as a teenager (prior to what I like to refer to as “The Curse of Hypothyroidism”), I was never confident in my outward appearance, despite what people believed because of how I looked. Now, I look at pictures of myself back then and think, “Damn girl! You look good!” Then, I immediately experience a gut-wrenching level of regret, because two thoughts pop into my head:

  • I wished I would have thought that then.
  • I wish I thought that now.

The funny thing is, I am not thinking that I looked good when admiring younger photos of me. Rather, I’m thinking someone who had my name and lived my life looked good.

I can’t own the idea that the person I’m looking at was me.

I say “was” in that last sentence intentionally. The person I was at 16–17 (I have no idea how old I was in this pic) is definitely not the person I am at 39. That person hadn’t experienced major heartbreak which planted the idea I am not worthy of being loved. That person did not have to watch her 50-year old mother wither and die from ALS. That person did not have to come to accept a body that included many more pounds than could realistically be shed without a mental breakdown at age 20, because genetics dealt a shitty hand by way of hypothyroidism, while all her fantastic female friends maintained seemingly normal metabolisms.

This was taken in the early 90s, when crushed velvet and big hair worked.

However! That person also didn’t earn a doctorate degree and realize a career goal she’d had since she was little. She didn’t help produce a brilliant show focused on reducing the stigma of mental illness, or experience the high of performing at Ignite Denver, nor did she know her two amazingly wonderful nieces who bring so much joy to her life. No, I am, thankfully, not the same person as I was in that photo. Because now, I am in love with the person I am!

Well, almost proud.

I still can’t shake hating what I look like.

I can walk in the world feeling confident knowing exactly who I am internally. I am intelligent, kind, funny, artistic and amazing. But, you make me look at a picture of myself? I immediately respond like Superman to kryptonite….or the Kardashians to a lifetime of no wi-fi.

Tom Hanks is the epitome of someone with total self-love, in my opinion.

I have been aware that my lack of loving my external self has kept me from things I want for some time (bomb drop: I am single). I know I maintain an emotional distance which has sometimes been perceived as indifference or elitism, all because I fear others hold the same belief of the genuine me being “unworthy” of love. So, maintaining distance has meant staying safe and rejecting first has meant not having to own the feeling of being rejected. I know I am responsible for the hesitancy when around others with whom I want to be my community (or support system, or friends — they’re all the same thing to me). My mind constantly berates me, saying, “They don’t like you for who really are, so be what you think they want you to be, even if it makes you uncomfortable.” This eventually leads me to withdraw and seek out all the imagined proof to confirm this is true. All the while, of course, I’m telling myself I’m OK with being alone.

BUT DAMMIT! THIS ISN’T TRUE!!!

I thought, when I finally found the ability to love my complete self (inside and out) in “real time,” it would be enough to vanquish my long-held negative self-image. But today, after seeing those pictures, I learned how incredibly wrong I was. All the horrible things I continue to say to myself when I look at a photo of me only magnifies beliefs I’ve held about being unlovable for most of my life. This cruel inner dialogue is what keeps me from feeling connected with others, or believing I’m capable of maintaining lasting friendships. These thoughts are what keep me feeling alone, when the reality is truly self-imposed isolation.

I don’t want these dark thoughts I tell myself in moments of self-doubt to become my reality, despite recognizing that’s what it has been for most of my adult life. I want my love of who I am internally to extend to myself externally. I don’t want to just tell myself, “I ROCK!” anymore. I want my sheer awesomeness to consume me and radiate outwards for all to see. I want to embrace others without reserving any emotion because I fear rejection, and I want to know I have a community who accepts all of me to lean on when needed. I don’t want to be alone despite my affinity and purposeful “alone time.”

So, what now?

I begin by challenging myself to take a picture each day and posting it to social media as a way of getting over my dark thoughts and beliefs. I’m doing this not to see how many reactions I can get, but because I can no longer hide behind profile pics which are either cartoons, me in costume, or my dogs anymore. I can’t hide anymore. Not sure if it’s gonna work, but it’s time to take action. So, here goes:

The First Step Is Always the Hardest.

Bed is my happy place when I’m sad.

Moo(n)d swing.