Kathy Atkinson Advocates Kindness

A longtime celebrity agent, Kathy shares stories from her experiences living and working on both coasts. She talks holding yourself accountable and why kindness matters so much
Kathy Atkinson Advocates Kindness

I’m a fourth generation Californian. I grew up in LA, near Hancock Park. When I first got into the entertainment industry, my experience was great. Because of the way I was raised I was just like, ‘doo-doo-doo-doo-doo — can’t we all get along?’ In LA I was in a bubble, so I didn’t really get [racism] until I moved to New York. And then I was like, ‘Oh… I see.’ I feel like where our problem lies is in the fact that most of us are not educated about other cultures, and there is so much self hate within cultures. Malcolm X said something great: he said if all people of color would come together, that’s how we would win. He didn’t mean let’s go out and kill people — he meant that if we wouldn’t fight amongst ourselves, we would win. That’s how I interpret it. And I feel like that’s where the problem lies. With women, it’s not liking other women. ‘You’re not cute enough, you’re not thin enough’ — there is so much self hate. At the end of the day, what does that say about us? Why are we so judgemental of one another’s appearance? Look, I know how you have to present yourself in certain industries. But it saddens my heart when I have a friend who’s starving herself to be a size two. What is wrong? There is something incredibly wrong. I’m glad I’m getting older. [Laughs]  

I was talking to someone recently about how I feel extremely vulnerable and powerful all at the same time [in 2019]. It’s just a very hard time. You feel it — people are crunchy. My soul is really sad right now. I was just saying last night, ‘What happened to the days where you could just laugh and all you had to worry about who's your president hooking up with?’ Now it’s like, I’m actually afraid. I mean, look: struggle is good. You grow from struggle, you learn about yourself, and if you don’t struggle I think you’re lost. But I’m aware of being black and a woman more than ever the last couple years — since [Trump] has been president. Maybe it’s that people always felt that and never approached me, but now people are coming at me and saying things. Before all these world problems I would just come back at people like, ‘who are you talking to? But I think that’s what makes me sad — I’m now afraid to speak up. That’s a really icky feeling. I don’t know if it’s racism, I don’t know what it is, but you’re seeing so many things happen and you’re reading about so much, people seem to be triggered. And I don’t want to be their target. 

To me, education is important. Knowing about the world is important. Understanding other societies is important. When my family would travel when I was a kid, my parents would make me learn about the place we were going, and I did learn a lot that way. My family, as much as they drive me insane, as far as ground rules they did a great job. I think I had the luxury of them never telling me I couldn’t do whatever I wanted. But not just me — so can you. In fact, one quality I think is amazing about the millennial generation is that they are not afraid to say ‘That’s not working for me.’ A lot of my friends disagree with me and say ‘They need to learn what it’s like to work, learn what it’s like to suffer.’ I’m like, ‘not so much.’ I remember when I first started my career, I was not being promoted at ABC. They told me, ‘You haven’t suffered enough yet.’ I went home and told my grandfather, and he said, ‘Go in and quit. No one just ‘suffers.’ So I went in and said ‘I’m quitting,’ and then they promoted me. [Laughs] If someone’s not treating you nicely, or you feel like you’re not getting paid appropriately, you guys are just like, ‘I’m out,’ and I think it’s amazing. 

I try to take on clients who are kind — who actually know themselves and want to do different things for the world. I always say ‘I don’t want to represent you if I can’t have you in my home.’ I’m not perfect, no one is. We’re all trying to deal with our flaws, it’s just nice if we can support each other in our flaws. And be really kind to each other in our flaws. And it’s a struggle. I roll my eyes five times a day going, ‘what did that person just say?’ [Laughs] But I’m trying. I think a lot of people would think I’m not the nicest person in the world. But I’m also really shy. Being kind is hard right now, but that’s the goal. I’m just not very good at editing what I think or say. When people get to know me they say I’m a teddy bear with teeth. But I do take responsibility for my bad behavior. It’s the most important thing in life: if you do not make yourself accountable, you lose every time. I think people that care about you hear you. At the end of the day, I really feel bad if I hurt someone. It’s never my intent. But all my bad behavior has made me a better person. I’m so proud to have people in my life who called me out on shit. I said to someone, ‘Why did you stay my friend?’ And they said, ‘because you had a good heart, you just were such a bitch.’ [Laughs] 

When I was younger, a photograph of me was published in this book Beautiful — it was a nude. It’s a great book. The photographer’s wife is one of my closest friends, so I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it for fun.’ I just did it for myself. But I saw the photo I was like, ‘...oh.., this isn’t what I thought I looked like.’ I started crying, and my best friend looks at me and goes, ‘Honey, did you think you were Cindy Crawford?’ [Laughs] She’s my best friend. I love her. You always want to look beautiful. But she said to me, ‘you are beautiful, you’re in this fucking book.’ Now when I look at it, I’m like, ‘yeah!’ But at the time, I wasn’t feeling good about myself. I had some body dysmorphia — I thought I was skinnier than the photo made me look, and it took me down a downward spiral for sure, because I had to deal with what that meant. I ended up in this space of meditation: what are you doing to yourself? And I had to work through it that way, focusing on myself. 

I had always rolled in the world doing what I wanted to do, but then all of a sudden I was in the spotlight. I’d just started managing. I was in my thirties. I hadn’t had success yet, and success scared me. I think that was a huge part of it all. I’m not sure I’d consider myself all that successful now, but as far as living my life on my terms, yes — they’re on my terms. And even though I’m sarcastic as hell [laughs], I’ve had a lot of hardships that have given me a lot of compassion. I really do have a lot of compassion. That comes from my life experiences, my family. That’s part of why I left [LA]. Here, I have so many different kinds of friends, and it’s lovely. I feel like I’m a better person in New York City — I think it has softened me. When you’re softer you’re kinder, and when you’re kinder you have more empathy. We need more kindness. Because we’re all suffering. We’re all in this together. We’re all the same. And I think about people who go to jobs they hate. If you’re lucky enough to have a job you love, you’re able to live your kindness and your truth and to be your most authentic self. I think that’s the goal in life — to be your most authentic self. And sometimes it’s not pretty. But life is not pretty. We’re all so incredibly flawed. We make excuses for it, but that’s where accountability comes in. Once you start making excuses for your flaws, you can’t have passion. And you know, it’s just nice to feel happy. It encourages you to get up in the morning. That’s what is changing in the millenials — that is something I thank them for. In my generation, I see a lot of people in jobs they don’t like focused on just making money, saving money, your future — but we all could die tomorrow. And if you think about that, it’s like, ‘Oh shit.’ [Laughs] I think if you surround yourself with good people, that’s the key. You can have fun. We’re not dead yet!”

Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Interview by Anna Jube. Styling by Emily Newnam. 

Tags: bodytalk , Purpose

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