How A BDSM Alter Ego Helps This Photographer Heal

For artist Kat Toronto, 2014 was not a good year. Recovering from a hysterectomy due to cervical cancer the previous year and seeing her marriage of 13 years come to a tumultuous end, she says it was a time of personal upheaval. "It just all fell on me like a ton of bricks," Toronto tells Refinery29, as she describes struggling with thoughts of suicide. "I was a wreck."
Toronto found an outlet for her feelings in her work, creating self-portraits that depicted her with black eyes, a bloody nose, and other graphic wounds. "It was like art therapy. I could express my emotions without actually hurting myself," she says. This representation of herself took on a life of its own, to the point that Toronto gave it a name: "I thought, 'I should just call her Miss Meatface,’ because at the time it just looked like I had raw meat all over my face.'"
Miss Meatface has changed in appearance since then, trading in black eyes for face-concealing BDSM hoods, but the purpose she serves in Toronto's life remains the same. "She’s become this very lovely part of me," she says, explaining that the work she does with Miss Meatface is some of the most satisfying — personally and professionally:
"If I’m having a really hard time, either with the world or with personal relationships, I’ll sit down and think, 'How can I channel this through my photography?' She just really helps me put everything I'm feeling together in a nice, neat, little aesthetically pleasing package."
Given how long she's been working to develop Miss Meatface's presence, Toronto's process for a shoot has reached the point of ritual. "I kind of lose myself... I don’t realise I'm doing it at the time, but then the next day I’ll be thinking about the shoot and a part of me doesn’t even remember it."
Simultaneously a source of inspiration and comfort, Miss Meatface isn't going anywhere anytime soon. "I don’t think I’ve been bored once since I've been shooting her," Toronto says.
Ahead, view a selection of Toronto's self-portraits — and meet Miss Meatface for yourself.