I am the mother of two young girls, Ella, 11, and Alice, 8. They are my inspiration for Strong Is the New Pretty. I was photographing them every day and noticed the images that were strongest and most meaningful to me were the ones where the girls were being themselves, whatever that was at the moment: dirty, feisty, silly, sassy, angry, funny, loud and louder. They didn’t need to pose a certain way, smile for the camera or brush their hair to be beautiful. I wanted my girls to know that the images that captured their true personalities showed their beauty. And the images turned into a tool I could use to combat the messages the media often sends to girls and women—that beauty is a particular hairstyle, size or outfit.
As the project grew, I met and photographed hundreds of girls from all over the country, and I learned that strength doesn’t always come in one package, and it doesn’t always manifest itself the way it does in my girls. Strength isn’t always loud and feisty. Strength can be in the face of a musician creating music because it is inside her. Strength can be switching tables in the lunchroom because your “friends” aren’t actually your friends. Strength can be meeting a cancer diagnosis with unrelenting positivity. Throughout the making of this book, I was and continue to be so inspired by the girls and young women who are featured between its covers. These are the faces of a new generation of young women who don’t need someone to tell them that it is what is inside that counts because they already know it.
I think the girls found confidence in being themselves by pursuing their dreams—becoming a gymnast, learning to be a pilot, playing football against the boys—regardless of what others thought. These girls were all brave, but it doesn’t mean that they were fearless. They all were scared. They all wondered what people would think of them. They all worried about how they would look. That kind of fear is within us all. Strength comes when we don’t let it dictate what we do.
In celebration, here are eight of my favorite photos that prove strong really is the new pretty, along with a few inspiring words of wisdom from the girls themselves.
"I wish every day was like this." - Caroline C., 10
"Some people don't think dance is a real sport, but it takes a lot of strength to master the technique, it takes time to make improvements, and it takes passion and dedication to reach your goal." - Kami, 11
"When I am in the air, I feel like I am flying. At the end of a jump, my mind is completely clear." - Abigail, 17
"We are undefeated and plan on staying that way." - Olivia J., 9
"I love the speed when I skate. I feel very alive and present — feeling fluid and going fast is fun." - Kekai, 12
"Strong is putting all your heart, mind, and effort into what you believe in. Your beauty will shine from this." - Jordan, 15
"Through music I have the ability to make others smile and even cry when I perform in a way that moves someone." - Nora, 11
"In wrestling, girls have an advantage. The guys think less of you until you are face-to-face with them!" - Rachel, 11
Kate T. Parker is a mother, wife, former collegiate soccer player, Ironman and professional photographer who shoots both fine art projects and commercial work for clients across North America. Her Strong Is the New Pretty photo series has led to collaborations with brands like Athleta, Kellogg's and Oxygen. The project has also inspired Kate to launch a philanthropic arm of Strong Is the New Pretty, partnering with organizations that invest in girls' health and education, like Girls on the Run, Glam4Good, and Girls Inc. She lives with her family in Atlanta, Georgia. Her website is katetparker.com.