If you’ve spent a minute tapping through TikTok, chances are you’ve seen a Kat Stickler video.
Maybe it was one of her comedic bits where she acts like her Hispanic mother. Perhaps you saw her spending a day at the beach with her 3-year-old, MK, or hanging out at a Tampa Bay Lightning game. Stickler is a longtime Tampa resident who attended Plant High School before graduating from the University of Florida in 2017.
It’s also possible you saw something a lot more personal. What makes 28-year-old Stickler stand out from other creators, and what has helped her TikTok following alone swell to nearly 10 million, is her ability to be vulnerable with her followers. She’s posted through a divorce, becoming a single mom, learning to co-parent and navigating the ups and downs of dating.
“It is crazy to me that I do this,” Stickler said. “Because I’m actually a really private human being.”
Stickler chatted with the Tampa Bay Times over the phone about her rise to TikTok fame, her love for the city of Tampa and why being honest online is so important to her. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’re so close to reaching 10 million followers on TikTok. Do you have anything planned to celebrate?
I was thinking about this the other day. I don’t even think I have enough friends to celebrate. I was like, “What am I going to do? Oh, I can have a party!” Then I was like, “Who am I going to invite?” I just feel like I’m home all the time. I don’t know. I think maybe I’ll buy my mom a bag.
Is this something where even though the profile is growing, you’re sticking to the people who are closest to you?
Yeah. It’s like always stay wary, especially when more people know about your life. Even with dating and making friends, you have to always do a second look. It’s so hard to make new friends. It kind of makes you hold on to the people you had before a little harder and appreciate them more.
I know you and your mom are close. What does she think of your success over the past few years?
At first she was obviously mortified and told me it was the worst decision ever. She’s like, “Don’t do this! This is crazy!” And then when I started doing it full time and she started to understand it more, she is so supportive of it.
How did you get to this point where making content became your full-time job?
I was a research coordinator at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and we were doing a transcranial magnetic stimulation study for post-combat trauma veterans who are still experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Then I had my daughter. It was so wild, because in March 2020 I was supposed to go back to work, and then COVID happened and we couldn’t go back. I was staying home longer than I expected, and I just had nothing to lose at that point. I had an unexpected pregnancy and I was in this tiny little apartment. It was honestly so I wouldn’t go crazy, because I was alone all day. It helped me a lot.
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What was it about this new endeavor that gave you meaning and excitement?
I think it was a creative outlet that I hadn’t experienced ever since being pregnant and giving birth. I went through really bad postpartum depression. It felt like I woke up from a dream and then I’m in someone else’s life, but I didn’t make any of these decisions and it was just so far from what I wanted for myself. Once I tried getting help for that, my therapist was like, “You’ve got to do something that makes you feel like you felt before.” Before, I liked making people laugh, but they were usually in front of me. So I’m like, “OK. I’ll try to make them laugh online.”
A big part of your experience online has included showing a full range of emotions. How do you know how personal to get?
You don’t know. I think it’s honestly just trial and error. I do it because it’s the only thing I know. When I first got my divorce, it was very public, and I felt like I couldn’t be honest because I was also processing something that was really traumatic for me.
Then I remember posting a video of my morning cry, like “Hey guys, I’m not OK. I cry every day and this sucks, but making videos makes me feel better. And I can’t be sad all day, because I have to be fun and happy as a mom to MK.”
It was just explaining a different side of me, and I think vulnerability is the root of all connections, so if I was able to connect with women who’ve gone through a breakup or divorce, that is a win for me because I can reach more people and they don’t feel so alone. The more comfortable I’ve gotten on the platform, the more comfortable I am with being vulnerable and emotional. I guess I have tougher skin now.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I think one of my biggest regrets was I was ashamed to tell my family I was getting a divorce. My mom knew, but no one else really knew. My family found out through TikTok because I was such a coward and I didn’t want to tell them to their face. They’re very traditional, but they understood.
I wouldn’t do anything differently because I learned through every single thing I did. Without it, I don’t think I would be here with almost 10 million followers.
That’s three times the population of the Tampa Bay area.
Isn’t it crazy?
How do you even conceptualize that?
You honestly don’t. I get nervous doing interviews like this, or going live on social media. I’ve had to totally separate myself from it, because I feel like if I don’t, then it’ll hinder what I put out creatively. I honestly feel impostor syndrome sometimes, like, “All these people want to listen to me? What if I’m not funny today?” But it’s such an honor and I’m really grateful for it.
What type of content gets the biggest reaction?
I wasn’t really surprised by [the Hispanic mom series]. It surprised me when I started dating again, the dichotomy with the two different sides and how they felt about it. Just people’s views on a single woman who is also a mother was very interesting to me. I had to be careful with what I chose to show, because people come with a lot of preconceived notions of how that should be. If you’re single forever, then it’s like, “Oh, that marriage ended, you can’t get someone.” And then you do get someone and it’s like, “That’s way too soon to be sleeping around.” And then you end up breaking up and it’s like, “Wow, she can’t even keep a man.”
Usually it’s always support, but I think when you’re in such a vulnerable state and also healing, you read those comments and they cut a little deeper than normal. I’m fine now, but initially I was crying at the response.
Did you ever think you could be so successful on TikTok?
I want to say that I did, but I really didn’t. Before, I wasn’t really into social media. I would delete it for months at a time. But I think there was a certain point where I was like, “OK, I can really take this seriously.”
A big part was providing for MK. I loved my job, but the pay was OK. We were in this 600-square-foot apartment and her crib was in the kitchen where the dining room table should have been. I remember wanting to give her more.
It was rough. I remember I really needed a new car. I wanted her to have a bedroom. I wanted to be able to buy her clothes, like if I was at the store and saw a cute dress. Eventually it got to the point where, when I got the divorce, it was like “OK, now I just want to provide for myself...without anyone else.” So it’s really given me independence.
Why was it important for you to live in Tampa?
My mom is from Venezuela and my dad is from Brazil. They ended up coming to Miami and then after we were there for a while, we went to Tampa.
I’ve always loved Tampa. When I was a little girl and people would be like, “Oh, I can’t wait to move,” I would always be like, “Why? This is paradise.”
I love the neighborhoods. I love the architecture. I love Bayshore. I love downtown. I’ve traveled to so many places, but Tampa is just home. It’s like a city, but also a small town. You can get the best of both worlds here.
Do you get recognized a lot while out in Tampa?
Nothing crazy. I remember I was in SoHo for one of my friend’s birthdays. It’s really the only time I really felt like, “Am I famous? What? Why do these people know me?” I think that’s because they were all drunk, so inhibitions were gone.
People are really sweet. It kind of catches me off guard. Sometimes I get emotional if we went through a breakup at a similar time. It just makes me feel worthy. Like, “OK, this is why the universe sent me here and I just don’t want to let people down.”
Where are your favorite spots around town?
I do love Hyde Park because I take MK to the playground where I played, so it’s super nostalgic. I remember swinging on those bars. I honestly love taking her places I went when I was a young girl.
How has Tampa shaped you and your experience with TikTok?
I feel like Tampa is me if I was a city. It started really gaining traction when I did (during the pandemic), so I’m like, “Wow, what a coincidence. This is meant to be.” I drive by the hospital where I gave birth and the fact that I can have the memories as a child but also as a mother with my child feels so safe and, honestly, kind of iconic.
I really do feel like Tampa had a little struggling point and now it’s booming and everyone sees its potential. I feel like any kind of young girl, you do have your struggling point and then all of a sudden you figure out what you want to do and people finally start catching on. I’ve always felt a little different, even with my content, even with how I got here. I think that’s why I resonate with Tampa. It is totally different from L.A. or New York, but that’s what I love about it.