Atlanta author and stroke survivor Katherine Wolf is redefining beauty, and she’s doing it in style.

By Betsy Cribb
January 14, 2020
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When women are dealing with disabilities, there is almost this unspoken rule that engaging fashion and style would be something they no longer have the right to do,” says speaker and advocate Katherine Wolf (@hopeheals). “That couldn’t be further from the truth!” When Wolf was just 26 years old, with a husband and a 6-month-old baby, she suffered a massive brain stem stroke, leaving her with limited mobility, a paralyzed face, and doubts about whether she’d ever be able to play with her son again. Since then, she’s had 11 surgeries (and another son). “They call me the ‘steel magnolia’ now because they had to put a steel rod in my leg,” she says. “I have loads of scars, but I’ve come to recognize that they are the best part. Scars are absolutely beautiful. They mean you’re here, you lived, you can show up to your life.” The Atlanta-based author (her second book, Suffer Strong: How to Survive Anything by Redefining Everything, is set to hit shelves February 11) talks ethical fashion, capsule dressing, and her definition of true beauty.

Why I’m Glad To Be Back in the South

“I’m from Athens, Georgia, and now live in Atlanta, so I’m just about an hour from where I was born. But I lived in California for 14 years, so there is a deep love for specific Southern things that I did not have there and now get to enjoy again on the regular. And then there are things that I loved about a more diverse experience that I brought from California to the South. Throw in there a massive stroke and two kids, and it’s been a really interesting journey. But my Southern roots have informed all of it.”

A Personal Motto

“If we have a pulse, we have a purpose.”

How I View Style

“I try to be thoughtful about fashion because it is about much more than the clothes we wear. Everything is about so much more than it appears to be on the surface, and I think our personal style has the potential to show people what’s important to us. As a woman dealing with disabilities and as a mother, I feel very strongly about the importance of presenting myself to the world in a way that allows others to see the dignity, read the worthiness, and feel the empowerment.”

Leah Overstreet; Hair, Makeup, and Wardrobe Styling: Celine Russell/Zenobia

Elodie Top in Thistle, $168; shopdolan.com

Silk Georgette Crepe Wide-Leg Ankle Pant, $298 (on sale: $83.40); eileenfisher.com

Loafer Mule in Black, $120; ssekodesigns.com

Capri Earrings $48; noondaycollection.com

Why We Should All Care about Ethical Fashion

“It matters where you’re buying clothes from and how they’re getting these items. There is no shame for people who are totally uninformed about fashion and ethical practices, but we as a society have got to be more conscious of what we buy. As women who have the ability to purchase things, why not choose to put money toward items that aren’t hurting people?”

Leah Overstreet; Hair, Makeup, and Wardrobe Styling: Celine Russell/Zenobia

The Imelda Moto Jacket, $178; livefashionable.com

Emmy Sneaker in Bone/Cheetah, $158; livefashionable.com

Reese dress in White Stripe, $158; sonnetjames.com

Ellsworth Hoops in Large, $68; ravenandlily.com

My Approach to the Capsule Closet

“I have a collection of interesting items, which are largely neutral, that I can pull from my closet and wear different ways throughout the week. The ‘constraint’ of not having 10,000 items to choose from creates clarity and creativity. There is power in capsule dressing: Being free from worrying about what to wear and how to wear it saves a lot of time and energy. It simplifies things and also allows you to be inventive and to tap into something different than you may have otherwise.”

My Wheels

“People often ask where I found my wheelchair. It’s from EZ Lite Cruiser.”

How I Define Beauty

“True beauty is walking away—running away!—from feelings of shame about your appearance. It is having a deep comfort level with yourself and not wasting what God has given you. It’s choosing to cherish the life that you have. As much as I may want my face not to be paralyzed, because that would be seen as more traditionally beautiful, well, that’s not available. So I’m going to love the face I have and choose to celebrate and cherish it.”

My Atlanta Top 10

Favorite sites, shops, and places to eat

1. Passion City Church

2. St. Cecilia

3. Pollen

4. Morgan Falls Overlook Park

5. Citizen Supply

6. Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante

7. Kefi

8. WildWoods at Fernbank

9. Brack’s Kitchen

10. Dairies Coffeehouse and Cold Brew Bar