The future is female, and Kate T. Parker is proving it. In her new book, Strong Is the New Pretty, the mother and photographer celebrates girls just being girls. Her gorgeous photos showcase an amazing range of girls of all ages — athletes, musicians, cancer survivors, dreamers, believers, doers — living fearless, unfiltered, real lives. It’s the perfect reminder that true beauty comes from being yourself. We chatted with Parker about her own daughters, what inspires her, and how strong looks good on everyone.

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Brit + Co: What inspired the title Strong Is the New Pretty?

Kate T. Parker: I am a 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.

B+C: How did you choose the focus adjectives for your chapters (confident, wild, resilient, etc.)?

KP: We sort of let the images guide us. I had been shooting for over a year and a half specifically for the book and had amassed a lot of images. We started sorting by themes and came up with the chapter headers that way.

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B+C: What are some of the best and/or most surprising things you learned in working on this project?

KP: When I traveled around the country, I found so many different kinds of strength. I’m an athlete, so I get how to set a goal and work your butt off to get there. I thought this was only something athletes did. It’s not. Anyone who does anything well does the same exact thing. I didn’t know this before. And this has been such a gift for me. It is not just recognizing the strength in ourselves, it is about listening hard enough to see the strength and power in others. Even when it is a power we don’t have.

I now understand how much work a musician puts into her music. This project opened my eyes to that. A musician playing to an audience is much closer to how athletes prepare for a big game than I ever thought.

Strength is strength. Commitment is commitment. Excellence is excellence. Hard work is hard work.

B+C: What are your favorite examples of your own daughters being their true selves?

KP: I see it in their daily lives. I love when Alice decides to wear her glasses to school (instead of her contacts) because the effort to clean and put in her contacts is too much, and she thinks she looks good either way. I love it when she gets up in front of a crowd, any crowd, and sings her heart out and knows she’s good. And wants to share it.

I so admire Ella’s kind heart. I aspire to be as compassionate as her someday.

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B+C: We are constantly bombarded by societal messages about how women and girls should behave. What advice do you have for girls and women to be true to themselves and not outgrow their sense of fearlessness?

KP: Too often our strength is taught or discouraged out of us as we grow up. But it’s like a muscle that needs exercise. The more you use it, the easier and more natural it becomes — even if you have to start by pretending. While on the journey, start small by trying things you normally wouldn’t and go from there.

B+C: Which women do you most admire and why?

KP: I admire women who are bold. Women who take a stance, popular or not, and go all in. Women who don’t apologize for who they are. I look up to Amy Schumer, Melinda Gates, Shonda Rhimes, among others, for all vastly different reasons, but they are all badasses.

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B+C: The breadth of girls in your book is so great, and each photo conveys so much personality. How did you find all of the girls in your book and express each of their unique voices?

KP: I found the amazing girls represented in this book through so many different ways, but mostly social media. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and the girls themselves reached out to me. My goal was to show the many different ways that girls can be strong, or be themselves, or pursue their passions. I wanted girls to be able to pick up the book and either find someone that inspires them or they can relate to.

B+C: Did you see a change in attitude across the different ages of your subjects?

KP: I didn’t see it too much in this book, but I do see it in daily life. After age 10 or 11, girls seem to lose their confidence and flounder a bit. I wanted a reminder of how amazing they once thought there were and can be.

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B+C: There are quite a few photos of girls supporting girls. How important is a strong network for girls in particular?

KP: Our girls are under so much pressure. Pressure to look, feel, and be happy and perfect all the time. Social media encourages this unrealistic level of perfection that is unhealthy. I hope that this book and message pushes the truth out there, that no one is happy all the time, that no one’s life is perfect, and that we are all just in this together trying to figure it all out. That beauty and power and strength comes from being confident in your own worth.

B+C: With the current state of the world, these inspirational stories seem like they matter more than ever. What do you think this young generation of women can teach everyone (of all genders and ages)?

KP: Women and girls are strong — that’s not new. But convincing them that their strength has value and is worth expressing is something that can take some work. So it’s a message that bears repeating. Because while every generation of girls is dealing with a similar scenario, what is new and what is different about this generation of young girls are the pressures they face — mainly from the internet and social media — to look, act, and be a certain way. I wanted this book and its message to be a little oasis for the girls. Something for them to look at, to read, to take in, and internalize that they don’t need to change, add a filter, or be someone or something else to be beautiful. They already are.

What are your tips for living boldly and strongly? Share them with us @BritandCo!

(Photos via Kate T. Parker)