One local Atlanta woman is redefining what it means for girls to be strong in her new book “Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves.”
The photographer and author Kate Parker is the mother of two girls, ages 8 and 12, who inspired the project. She said she loved to photograph her children and eventually, from these photos, the idea for her book was born.
“I noticed over time that the strongest images, the ones that moved me the most, were the ones where the girls were being themselves,” Parker said. “For my girls, that means being silly and emotional. A lot of times they were dirty, their hair wasn’t brushed, or they didn’t have a special outfit on. They were just being themselves.”
After this realization, Parker began outlining a project that became known as “Strong is the New Pretty.”
“Girls are bombarded with messages about how important pretty is, that it’s in your size, hair or outfit,” Parker said. “I wanted my girls, all girls, to know that that’s not true. Being yourself is enough. That’s where the beauty comes from. That’s the most beautiful you can be.”
She decided to focus on the idea of strength and all of the different ways that young women and girls show that strength. It was a definition that continued to evolve during the course of the project.
When she first started, Parker said she had a “very narrow” definition of strength that mainly focused on athletic girls living in the more affluent suburbs of North Fulton.
“When I had the opportunity to turn it into a book, I really wanted to expand the definition,” Parker said. “Strength doesn’t always look like an athlete. It isn’t always gritting it out or making a muscle. Strength shows itself in so many different ways.”
Parker traveled across the nation meeting girls from all walks of life in her search of the meaning of strength. Some of the definitions that she settled on include confidence, resilience, creativity, kindness, independence and joy, all of which became separate categories in her book.
There are nine sections in the book, each one representing a different word. But Parker said it was difficult to pick “just nine words” out of an original list spanning over 30. Out of the resulting list, the chapter for “wild” originally had the most images.
“We had so many ‘wild,’ which I thought was awesome,” Parker said. “You don’t generally think of girls as ‘wild,’ but that they’re calm and complacent. I love that I had too many wild pictures of girls.”
Each of the photos is paired with a quote from the pictured girl who generally was doing what she loved most. The quotes range from humorous – “I tried to bulldoze my little brother, but my mom said no,” – to profound – “we weren’t supposed to climb this high, but the view is better up here,” – and everything in between. Many of the quotes were obtained through a questionnaire asking a girl to define strength. But some were uttered candidly during the photo shoots themselves.
“It really cemented for me how important it is for kids, girls especially, to find a passion and pursue it,” Parker said. “If you have something you’re good at, something you love, something you really invest your time in, then your self-worth comes from that instead of external things like looks or boys. It keeps your confidence levels up.”