Q & A: Kate T. Parker, creator of Strong is the New Pretty
By Colette Harris
Strong is the New Pretty celebrates girls as they are - funny, athletic, strong, artistic, serious, studious, silly, loud, adventurous, and much more. Through stunning photographs of girls as young as 3 to 18-year-olds embarking on adulthood, professional and commercial photographer Kate T. Parker, captures the essence of what it means to be a young woman discovering your passions and interests and learning to love yourself just as you are.
GOLD: You presented the original collection of photographs that would become Strong is the New Pretty at a gallery show in Atlanta. What struck you about the images of your daughters and their friends that made you want to include these photographs in your exhibit?
KP: I was shooting my girls and their friends and noticed that the images that were the strongest, the most compelling, were the ones where they were being themselves. Their hair wasn’t brushed. They didn’t have a special outfit on. Most of the time they were dirty and they were being emotional, and loud, and in your face. I wanted my girls to know that was beautiful, that was okay, that it was acceptable, and they didn’t have to change themselves. So that’s really kind of how Strong is the New Pretty was born.
GOLD: The gallery show was the catalyst for the book. How did that happen?
KP: I had to pull from thousands and thousands of images the 20 strongest that were to be part of the show. It’s the responsibility of the photographer to frame and print all of the images, so that was a big expense for me. Not one single picture sold. I was bummed and like, “Oh I’m a bad photographer.” After I got over that I got kind of angry. I was like, no I still think there’s something important here. I still think these images are good and there’s something worthwhile. Honestly, at that time I did not know what it was. So I packaged up the images and sent them to a few blogs that I followed. From there they went viral. They were everywhere and people kept saying where’s the book and I was like, "There’s not a book here at all." Then, a day later I got an email from the publisher and then a day later I got an email from a literary agent and that’s how the book happened. It was not my idea.
"Strong has always been pretty and strong will always be pretty."
Kate T. Parker
GOLD: The book deal gave you the opportunity to expand the project further and include more girls from diverse backgrounds. What do you hope readers will take away from the images and stories they see?
KP: Up until that point, the girls that were featured in the project were all my daughters and their friends. They were very specific girls from a very specific place who all played sports. I didn’t want people to think that was the only way a girl could be strong. I wanted to show all kinds of strengths and all kinds of interests. I really wanted to put something out there that was honest, that was truthful, and that showed girls as they are.
GOLD: What’s next for you and Strong is the New Pretty?
KP: I just finished up the book tour. I got to go to 15 cities, talking to tons of girls at schools. The thing that surprised me most was that I assumed that everyone had heard this message – that you’re valuable as you are – and that I was just sort of reiterating it; but some of these girls had not heard that ever before. It was startling to me and I was like, alright I definitely need to keep doing this and sharing these messages. I don’t think I’ll ever stop shooting this project. I would love to be able to shoot girls around the world and to have the opportunity to do a volume II.
GOLD: You played soccer at Wake Forest University. Are there any lessons that you learned as an athlete that you use in your career today?
KP: For sure. One of things that I was as a soccer player and I am as a photographer was that I was never the most talented. You can’t control that. The thing that I took control of on the field and the thing I can control as a photographer is hard work. There’s a saying, hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard, which I totally subscribe to. If I had taken that no and thought that I was not a good photographer because nobody bought those pictures of mine [at the gallery show], none of this would have happened. But, just because I got mad and thought the pictures were worthwhile, I just kept at it. I kept shooting and I kept pushing.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photos courtesy of Kate T. Parker; photographer
Captions in order of appearance: Cover of Strong is the New Pretty; Kekai, age 12, skater; Kami, age 11, dancer; Emily, age 17, hockey player; Eliza, age 13, volleyball player; Lesley, age 18, ROTC recruit; Whitney age 10, scientist; Jordan, age 15, athlete; Finleigh, age 8, soccer player; Maddie, age 7;