Being vulnerable online allowed Kat Hawthorne to regain their confidence

Kat Hawthorne positively impacts the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities.

<p>First year acting major Kat Hawthorne poses for a photo Feb. 1 at Schmidt/Wilson Hall. Hawthorne is a disability advocate and fashion influencer. Mya Cataline, DN</p>

First year acting major Kat Hawthorne poses for a photo Feb. 1 at Schmidt/Wilson Hall. Hawthorne is a disability advocate and fashion influencer. Mya Cataline, DN

The wide spectrum of bright colors and patterns found behind Kat Hawthorne’s closet doors match their friends' sentiments about their personality: playful, cute and fun. The occasional pop of color outlining their eyes embodies Hawthorne’s artistic traits and positivity. 

This unique and eclectic style Hawthorne sports has drawn admiration from others on Ball State University’s campus, but their reach goes much farther than Muncie.  

Hawthorne, a first-year acting major, began posting on social media as a way to cope when they were diagnosed with a disability at 15. Hawthorne’s diagnosis consisted of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), dysautonomia and gastroparesis. They missed out on high school experiences, as they had to stop attending due to an increase in hospital visits. 

Early on in their diagnosis, seeing content creators talk about their experience with disability allowed Hawthorne to feel less alone. When they began posting “Outfit of the Day” videos and content about their personal experience, engagement took off.  

“I guess more and more people started seeing it and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, seeing you really helped me feel less alone,’ and so I had suddenly become like the people who had helped me earlier,” Hawthorne said. 

With Hawthorne’s follower count, many of those watching their videos are located all over the United States and some even out of the country. Lilly Padgett is a 24-year-old woman in Charlotte, North Carolina. She first discovered Hawthorne on Instagram in 2022. 

“Being disabled, queer personalities online, we quickly became mutuals on both platforms,” Padgett said via email. “I was immediately infatuated with [their] style and contagious joy that comes through [their] content.”  

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A decorated corner of Kat Hawthorne’s dorm Feb. 1 at Schmidt/Wilson Hall. Hawthorne tends to film their videos for their media pages in front of this corner. Mya Cataline, DN

As a self-described “silly, disabled lesbian,” Hawthorne has had an impact on the awareness around both the LGBTQ+ and disabled community. 

In the summer of 2023, Hawthorne received a message they initially thought was fake. They were hesitant, but this message developed into the “coolest moment” of Hawthorne’s life.  

For Pride Month, Macy’s partnered with The Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention of LGBTQ+ youth. Hawthorne was contacted to be featured in a video alongside other influencers who are members of the community.  

“It was just so cool to be in such a supportive environment and surrounded by other queer youth as well,” they said. “ I felt like I was doing something important.” 

Hawthorne has found that in the process of making a positive difference in their viewers' lives, they are also personally benefiting from the interaction. 

“I think it has helped me be a lot more open about things I’m dealing with and has given me a lot of confidence,” Hawthorne said. 

First-year acting major Chali Moss became friends with Hawthorne at the beginning of the school year. Through their bond, Moss sees a side of Hawthorne their followers don’t. 

“They have a really funny sense of humor that is goofy and very appealing to me, and I think that’s harder to see through social media, but they are a little silly and awkward, and it’s wonderful,” Moss said. “There is a depth to Kat that you obviously can’t see through people on social media.” 

In addition to their wardrobe depicting a bold and colorful personality, Hawthorne decorates their forearm crutch to match the current season or holiday. 

“I felt like it wasn’t showing enough personality, and if I have to use it anyway, might as well make it an extension of me,” Hawthorne said. “It really helped me reframe my mindset around it, because at first, most people you see using mobility aids are older people,  so to be able to decorate it and have some fun thing[s] and make it less medical and sterile has really helped me.”

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First year acting major Kat Hawthorne poses for a photo Feb. 1 at Schmidt/Wilson Hall. Hawthorne decorates their forearm crutch for seasons and holidays. Mya Cataline, DN

Hawthorne’s presence on social media as a disability advocate allows those with similar experiences to feel seen. 

“I think it’s so beautiful and wonderful that they’re able to connect with people in such a large way. Even if it’s through a screen, it’s still really impactful, and they’re able to take those connections outside of the online world,” Moss said. 

While Hawthorne aims to spread positivity through their experience, vulnerability can be hard to embrace, especially on the internet in front of thousands of strangers. With thousands of people seeing their content, there is bound to be some negative reactions, Hawthorne said.

“At first, when some of my content on Instagram got more views, it came with a lot of hate, which was kind of surprising,” they said. “When it first happened, I was 17 years old, and at first I took it really personally, and I stopped answering [direct messages] for a while. So that threw me off, but over time I guess I’ve found ways to laugh at it.” 

As Hawthorne’s friend, Moss sees the occasional hateful comments in a sea of positivity. They want people to remember that there are real human beings behind social media accounts. 

“Though social media can be seen as fun and escapism-y, there are people who are being vulnerable and sharing a part of themselves online,” Moss said. “Be respectful of that, and just remember to be kind to other people behind the screen and in real life because you never fully know a person just by their social media.” 

Starting as a way to cope with a big life change, Hawthorne’s social media presence has turned into something much larger.  

“I would say my overall goal is to show young, disabled people that they’re not alone,” Hawthorne said. “You can still wear fun outfits even with a disability. I feel like it’s somewhat self-indulgent. I have fun, and I like making my silly, little videos.” 

Hawthorne can be found on Instagram and YouTube at kawthorne and on TikTok at kawthornee. 

Contact Ella Howell with comments at


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