Photographer and mother Kate T. Parker is helping redefine the meaning of beauty for young girls.
Parker’s striking new photo series Strong is the New Pretty captures her daughters and their peers in moments of adventure, silliness and yes, even fierce competition—no pink bows or dresses required. The photos show her two daughters and their friends exploring the woods, jumping through sprinklers, making forts—enough to make you want to be a kid again. “I wanted to celebrate these girls just as they are,” Parker told Quartz. “Not how females are expected to be. I wanted to celebrate them, and show them that is enough.”
The series began as a personal project but over time evolved into a testament to young female empowerment and strength. “I started shooting my girls every day to just become a better photographer. I wanted to practice, as well as document their childhood in a real and authentic way,” Parker told Quartz. “I wanted to show what I was seeing as their mother: strong, fierce, sometimes upset, frequently joyful, confident, messy, silly, funny girls.”
Still, it wasn’t until a year after Parker began documenting her family’s life that she noticed an emerging pattern in her artwork—of beauty in strength and “realness”—she feels is largely absent from mainstream photography.
“The strongest images were the ones showcasing the girls, as well as their friends, being 100%,” she said. “I realized that this was something that might perhaps be missing in photography, a realistic depiction of little girls, not Photoshopped and looking perfect.”
Open any magazine or catalogue, and images of perfectly coiffed, smiling and spotless girls (and women) jump out at you. The not-so-subtle message behind these types of photos? It’s the well-behaved and pristine girls who are most cherished.
But if you ask Parker, it’s a girl’s authenticity and strength—the sense of her of being “comfortable in her own skin, no matter the situation”—that is truly beautiful, and ought to be encouraged.
“I would love parents to recognize the value of their children. Whatever you are, that’s okay,” she explained. “My girls are strong, loud, crazy, silly. As a mother and photographer, I celebrate them. I encourage every parent to do the same. Find and celebrate what makes your child unique and special.”
As for her girls, Parker says they’re rather unimpressed with being photographed, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t want them to have their worth tied up in images, and the less they care about them, the better.”