By: Kate T. Parker, professional photographer and author of Strong is the New Pretty
When my daughters were younger, I started taking photos of them, as most moms do. However, rather than just shooting their pretty, picture-perfect moments, my hope was to truly capture the essence of who they are–kinda messy, sometimes upset, other times screaming with joy, and ultimately, full of emotion and life. I wanted to celebrate the real-life strengths, imperfections, emotions and individuality of my daughters and their friends because they are beautiful just the way they are.
And this is how Strong is the New Pretty was born. A series of photos I posted of one of my daughters went viral, and since then, I have had the opportunity to continue celebrating all kinds of girls and boys for being themselves through several other books and photography projects.
If you can celebrate and believe in who you are as a kid (and as an adult), that’s empowerment. Empowering our kids starts with celebrating them for who they truly are and can become. It’s helping them discover their confidence and passions–where they can succeed and the things that make them unique. It's only natural for kids to want to hide or soften these qualities in order to “fit in,” but I think it’s so important for kids to embrace their individuality. Because, oftentimes, it’s the things that make us “weird” or “different” that become our greatest asset.
I believe that kids who are raised to embrace and celebrate their own differences are more likely to embrace and celebrate the differences of others. After all, it’s often kids’, teenagers’, and even adults’ insecurities about themselves that trigger hurtful comments and cruel behavior. Sadly, we’re often mean to others to just feel better about ourselves. Confident, empowered kids are kinder because they don’t need to put others down to feel good about themselves.
Empowered kids are not only kind, but can also use their voice to make a difference. I love stories of individuals realizing that something isn’t right and changing it because they feel empowered to do so. My most recent project, “When We Roar: A Celebration of Girls and Women Raising Their Voices,” captures the moments when girls and women discover their voice and use it to make a change in their world and the world.
For example, I had the opportunity to photograph a girl named Elizabeth, a 24-year old who just graduated Rollins College as the valedictorian. Elizabeth happens to have Autism and is nonverbal. She gave her valedictorian speech using a computer-assisted device. Another young woman I had the privilege of photographing for this book is named Sevy. Sevy is a ridiculously-talented artist and happens to have Down syndrome. Because she is also nonverbal her voice comes through art. How impressive! Empowered women who are sharing their voices deserve to be celebrated.
So, as parents, grandparents, teachers and loved ones, how do we raise empowered kids? Kids who are comfortable and confident in their own skin. Kids who are understanding and empathetic toward others. Kids who celebrate each other’s differences rather than make fun of them. Kids who are strong from within. Kids who aren’t afraid to raise their voice for change. Here are a few ways we learned to empower our daughters, Ella, who is 17, and Alice, who is 14.
Guion The Lion friend, Kate T. Parker is a mother, wife, Ironman, and professional photographer who shoots both personal projects and commercial work for her clients. Kate’s Strong Is the New Pretty photo series has led to collaborations with brands like Athleta, Kellogg's, and Oxygen. The project has also inspired Kate to launch a philanthropic arm of Strong Is the New Pretty, partnering with organizations like Girls on the Run and The Bully Project that invests in girls' health and education. In addition to Strong is the New Pretty, Kate has authored The Heart of a Boy and Play Like a Girl.
Children’s books, like Guion The Lion, are great tools for teaching kids about kindness, compassion and empathy. Through the children’s book, parenting/teaching resources, fun activities and more, kids can learn how appreciating differences, practicing kindness and embracing new ideas leads to unimaginable fun. Follow Guion The Lion on Facebook and Instagram and subscribe to the Guion The Lion newsletter for more tips and activities for raising empowered, kind children.