By Marybeth Bock

Chances are you’ve seen some of Kate T. Parker’s photographs, even if you don’t know her name. Her creative work has appeared in a wide variety of publications such as O Magazine, Vogue, People Magazine, Buzzfeed, Shape Magazine, and on outlets like CNN, The Today Show, and Good Morning, America, among others.

Kate’s early photos, stunning in their honest portrayal of girls looking fierce, messy, determined, happy, curious, annoyed, and strong – in other words, authentic –led to a gallery showing, and then, after a great deal of rejection and persistence, eventually a book deal.

Her Strong Is the New Pretty book, which was named one of the “Best Books of 2017” by Amazon, has resulted in the publication of two more books, and into collaborations with some impressive clients like Disney, NBC, the Girls Scouts of the USA, the NFL, American Express, Lululemon, Mercedes Benz, and Walgreens, to name a few.

As the mother of two daughters who are now teenagers, Kate realized that the photos she took of her own girls when they were younger didn’t necessarily look like most images of girls in the media that she was seeing at the time.

Far too many photos in mass media back then portrayed girls looking highly stylized, with “perfect” hair, skin, smiles, and bodies. There were few photos that showed girls really being themselves – getting dirty, not smiling, struggling, or revealing what people considered to be unfeminine feelings like annoyance or toughness.

In this way, Kate’s message and movement that “Strong is the New Pretty” grew from her desire to have her own daughters see themselves reflected back to them in what they would view on TV, in magazines, and on billboards. Girls are fierce, angry, powerful, and pretty at the same time.

Kate knew that it was important to capture young girls in her photos, so that others in their formative years could be comfortable being themselves and would grow up knowing that girls being true to themselves are powerful, and are to be acknowledged and celebrated.

I Am Teen Strong recently spoke with Kate T. Parker about her work and about life as a teenage girl in today’s challenging world.

IATS: What would you say are the biggest differences with being a teen girl now, versus when you were a teen?

KTP: Social media! It places so much more pressure on our girls and is SO much to navigate as a teen. Girls need lessons on how to consume social media with a critical eye. I remind my daughters that social media is a highlight reel – no one really lives that way. Teens need to figure out what on social media makes them feel bad and then mute that.

IATS: What are some struggles and lessons that teens have dealt with because of COVID?

KTP: While some teens have struggled with the isolation, many have discovered valuable life lessons. I have seen in my older daughter the realization that you need to grab opportunities as they come – things in life can change so quickly. We all need to hold on to this sense of urgency to get out and do things like travel and experience the world. And be persistent about your passions!

IATS: What resource suggestions do you have for a teen girl who might be struggling in any way today?

KTP: Look around at who is in your immediate environment. There are always people right there willing to help you, be it a friend, a teacher, or a coach. Be transparent and proactive with whatever you are struggling with. People want to help others. Having a mental health issue is so common and there is no shame in it.

IATS: What are some of the most lasting impressions that teen girls from around the country have made on you?

KTP: I love meeting and capturing images of girls all over the country.  It’s such a gift to be able to share their stories.  I leave each and every session with some hope.  Hope for these girls and hope for our future.  I am so inspired by their courage, honestly and willingness to share.

To view Kate’s work and for more information about Strong Is the New Pretty, please check out her website.


Marybeth Bock, MPH, has logged time as an Army wife, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Phoenix and you can find her writing on multiple parenting sites.