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Strong Is the New Pretty

Photographer Kate Parker ('98) wants to show girls that beauty comes from the inside.

By Cherin C. Poovey (P '08) Wake Forest Magazine
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Communication major Kate T. Parker (’98) is mother of two girls and a photographer based in Atlanta. She wrote Wake Forest Magazine about her new project called “Strong Is the New Pretty,” which is all about showing young girls’ strength, power and confidence. It has been featured on National Public Radio, in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, among other media.

Parker says that as a Demon Deacon soccer player (1994-98) and member of the first women’s team (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall), she was surrounded by strong women who all got their sense of self and confidence from what their body could do, how it performed on the field, rather than what it looked like.

“I feel so lucky to have grown up around women like this,” she says. “I wanted to do the same for my girls. I wanted to show them that being beautiful has nothing to do with what is on the outside. My experience at Wake definitely helped shape this project.”

Following are excerpts from Parker’s project, online at her website:

I am a mom of little girls … which is alternately the most amazing and the hardest job in the world.

Society gives young girls and women a lot of ideas about what is acceptable for how they act, look and even feel.

I want to make sure my girls know that who they are is enough.

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They don’t need to have their hair done, clothes matching, or even have clean fingernails to be loved and accepted.

That being a soccer player or bug collector is just as good as being a dancer or a princess.

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Their father and I love them just as they are. Loud, dirty, athletic, competitive … just as my parents loved me for being, um, exactly the same way. Growing up, I was a total tomboy. I refused dresses, pink or anything remotely feminine. I was only interested in soccer and being exactly like my big brothers, and this was 100 percent encouraged by my parents. I was never made to feel like I needed to be more “girlie” to be loved or accepted. As a former collegiate soccer player, I was lucky enough to grow up with some amazingly strong females that all felt the same way.

As a mother and a photographer, I wanted to show this strength. I wanted to show it, the best way I knew how, through my photography.

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Initially, this project started as a desire to record my daughters and the memories of their childhood, as well as practice with my camera and different lighting situations, environments, times of day, etc.

After about a year or so, it organically grew into something different. The images changed. I started to see patterns and recognize that the images where the girls were authentically captured were the strongest images. The images that showed the girls as they genuinely are were my favorites. After seeing this, I started to shoot with that in mind.

The project became about capturing my girls and their friends as they truly are and how that is OK. Not only OK, but worthy of celebration. There’s a lot of pressure for girls (and women) to look a certain way or act in a certain manner, and I wanted to let my daughters know that who they naturally are is enough.

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The message that I’d like people to take away from my project is to encourage little girls to celebrate who they are — whoever they are! If your daughter is obsessed with pink, princesses and ballet, amazing! Or if she is a soccer playing, tough-as-nails bookworm, great! Allow your girls to be who they are, whatever that is. Create an environment for them to feel secure and confident in their own selves. Let them know that whatever it is, whoever they are, that’s OK. And not only is it OK, it’s great.

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I wanted to continue that feeling of “You are OK just as you are” with my girls. Being a mother of little girls only cemented my belief even more. Encouraging strength, confidence, kindness, as well as toughness was the path we decided upon when we started raising our girls. This feeling and sentiment bled over into my photography where oftentimes everything is beautiful or Photoshopped to look perfect.

I wanted to show the beauty, uniqueness, and strength of my girls (and their friends) in the imperfect. Messy hair, dirty faces, brave, angry, joyous, whatever it was … I wanted to capture it. All these emotions make up childhood. I think that great things are happening with how women are seen these days. The Lean In movement has been a boon for professional women. Books-turned-movies like “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games” show younger women as heroes, but I’d love something for younger girls to have as their own. Maybe these images can spark that conversation.

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