STRONG IS THE NEW PRETTY: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves

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By Kate T. Parker

Photographer, Author, GLAM4GOOD Advisory Board Member

When I was seven, my hair was long and thick and nearly reached my waist.  Most days it was in a messy ponytail (not much has changed).  At that same time in my life, my main goal were to first, be exactly like my tow older brothers and second, kick butt on the soccer field just like they did.

It wasn’t lost on my that most boys didn’t need to spend time painfully getting their knots brushed out or putting in ponytails — and their hair didn’t get in their face while they played sports.  I began to realize that the hair had to go.  It was a time suck.  I had games to play and goals to score.

I didn’t want just a trim.  Nope, “go big or go home” was my attitude.  I wanted it look like my brothers’ hair.  Chop it all, please.  Not exactly what you saw ever day on suburban New Jersey girls circa 1983.  However, my parents both fully supported me.  They results were exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t care what other people were going to think.  I loved my new hair so damn much.

The day after I had my hair cut, I walked proudly into second grade.  My new look was the bomb.  Not one single part of me thought “it didn’t look good” or “girls should have long hair” or it “wasn’t feminine”.  You know why?  It never occurred to me that girls had to do this, or be that, or look a certain way.  I had never been told that girls shouldn’t play sports, or be loud, or question everything, or get their hair cut exactly like their big brothers’.  I loved that my parents allowed me to be whoever I really was.  I still love them for that.

 

The more I shot, the more I began to notice that the strongest images, the ones that reunited most with me, were the ones in which the girls were being 100 percent themselves.

And now, as a mother of two young daughters, I try to do the same for my girls.  My husband and I encourage loudness, silliness, fearlessness, confidence, strength, and individuality.  We let them wear their hair however they want.  (The goal is brushed.) My husband and I aim to celebrate who they are, just as they are.  This photo series started as a personal project.  I work as a professional photographer, but I’m also a mom (the mom with the giant camera and bag of lenses at most events).  And it’s not uncommon for me to be photographing my girls and their friends — constantly— when they’re riding their bikes, at soccer practice or exploring tide pools while on vacation.  The more I shot, the more I began to notice that the strongest images, the ones that reunited most with me, were the ones in which the girls were being 100 percent themselves.  When they were messy and funny and stubborn and joyful and in your face, I kept shooting.  I didn’t ask them to smile or go put on a pretty dress.  I wanted to continue to capturing them in just that way—no just for my sake, but for theirs, too.

As a body of work emerged, I kept at with with more intention.  I wanted to show my girls that beauty isn’t about being a certain size, or having your hair done (or even brushed in their cases), or wearing a fancy outfit.  I wanted to combat the messages that they media sends to women every day.  I wanted my girls to know that being themselves is beautiful, and that being beautiful is about being strong.

Strong is the new pretty was born.

I wanted to show my girls that beauty isn’t about being a certain size, or having your hair done (or even brushed in their cases), or wearing a fancy outfit. 

As the project began to receive more attention, I knew I had the opportunity to expand it, to show strength in all its varied forms.  I began traveling to meet young women from all over the country, from Florida to Colorado to New York to Texas to Hawaii and lots of places in between.  In fact, there are almost 200 girls represented here, from all over North America.  More important, they represent a vast number of human stories, ranging from small moments of achievement to persistent struggles against adversity, from lifting oneself up to lending a helping hand or offering a hug.  Through my personal experience with identifying and owning my own strength as a girl was through athletics, there is strength in the quiet moments, too—strength in the intellect, in nurturing your curiosity and being able to ask questions, in being creative and kind, in bold displays of anger and joy, and in quiet demonstration.

Every girl I met is amazing.  I feel honored to share their stories and images—and their strength with you.

You can find out more on Kate T. Parker’s extraordinary work and her new book here.

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