Little girls are always told that they should strive to be pretty. For photographer Kate T. Parker, that beauty comes in the form of strength. The 40-year-old former collegiate soccer player and mom of two girls, Ella (11) and Alice (8), is the mastermind behind the photo series and book “Strong is the New Pretty” where she documents amazing photos of young girls being themselves. The project has gone viral and resulted in partnerships with some of the country’s top brands like Kellogg’s and Athleta. Kate was even able to add a philanthropic part to the project that gives back to empowering organizations like Girls on the Run and The Bully Project, which invest in girls’ health and education. Kate tells us her inspiration behind the project, what she loves about being a mom and how Emma Watson’s tweet changed her life.
Tell us your backstory…
I started shooting my girls as soon as I had them. I wasn’t very good with the camera, didn’t know how to shoot manually or edit at all, but I had worked in advertising and as a video editor before becoming a mom, so had practice making things look good and compelling on screen. I taught myself how to shoot and edit through YouTube, gradually upgraded my cameras and systems, started shooting families then weddings then commercial all the while keeping the same thread of shooting honest, authentic portraits in all my work.
How and why did you come up with the Strong is the New Pretty Campaign?
I am mother to 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 that 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, or smile for the camera, or brush their hair to be beautiful. I wanted my girls to know that those 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.
When was the moment you knew it really gained momentum?
I woke up at 6AM on a Saturday morning (something I would NEVER do on purpose) since I thought my phone was ringing. It wasn’t. Emma Watson had tweeted at me that she loved my work and would have killed to be photographed by me when she was younger. My phone was buzzing from all the notifications on Twitter. Crazy!! Best alarm ever.
You are a fantastic photographer! What is your favorite part about your job?
Thank you so much. I love finding and shining a light on beauty. Real beauty, true beauty, beauty that comes from being yourself and being confident in that.
You have a book that just came out. Tell us about it…
As the project grew, and I met and photographed hundreds of girls from all over the country, 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 of her. Strength can be changing tables in the lunchroom because your “friends” weren’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 girls are the faces of a new generation of women who don’t need someone to tell them that “it is what is inside that counts” because they already know it.
What is your favorite part about being a mom?
I love every part of being my girls’ mom. I love the cuddles, the laughs, the knowing every part of them, being a safe place for them to land. I really enjoy my girls as people and even if I wasn’t their mom, I would still think they’re awesome kids.
What is one of your superhero mom moments?
I think anytime I get off a redeye flight and “mom” (yes, it’s a verb) I am a rockstar. Since I feel like a literal zombie and would pay $1000 for a 10-minute nap.
What was your biggest mom fail?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve agreed to something (authorizing an online “squishy” purchase or okay-ing the creation of homemade slime) when I am working and my attention is elsewhere. I think my kids smell it and take advantage though.
Any tips on balancing working and motherhood?
Do you have some? I could use some! LOL. I try to get as much done as I can when they are at school and sleeping so I can be as fully “there” as possible when they need me. Definitely a balancing act.
What 5 things can you never leave home without?
My phone and bandolier case. LOVE that case, Its a little purse for my phone!
external chargers, I am always running low on battery especially when I travel. I have about 6 that I travel with.
Revlon Kiss lip gloss – tastes like cherries AND keeps them moisturized? YES!
Beats Headphones – make the plane less plane-y sounding and I can pretend I am in my living room (I have to really pretend hard)
Black Felt Tip Pens – these are the bomb and make keeping my to do list fun to write.