A group of fathers was recently asked to name the top two or three qualities they hoped to see in their daughters. Intelligent, independent, and strong were their top three answers. Essentially, the men surveyed wanted a daughter who would be capable of taking care of herself and who showed the kinds of capacities often more prized in boys. I know that’s what I want for my daughter as well. How do we help to develop those qualities in girls when, to some extent, the larger culture would still rather girls be attractive, nurturing, and sweet? Ironically, the same survey showed that men mostly seek those traditional qualities in a wife or female partner.
Kate T. Parker’s new book, Strong is the New Pretty, can help to bridge that gap by demonstrating that such qualities already exist in girls without them having to be anything other than the people they were created to be. While my daughter is still probably still a few years away from really appreciating it, I’m already looking forward to the day I can share Parker’s book with her.
The book came about when Parker, who is a photographer by trade, realized that her favorite pictures of her daughters, “were the ones in which the girls were being 100 percent themselves. When they were messy and funny and stubborn and joyful and in your face . . . I wanted to capture these girls as they were, and how they were was amazing.”
The resulting project took her around the country, photographing and collecting the stories of young girls and teenagers who demonstrate the many forms in which beauty comes. Their strength shines through adversity across life’s various circumstances and reminds the reader that true beauty, as clichéd as it may sound, is about far more than appearance.
We frequently teach that lesson to our children, and it’s a quality my wife and I hope to instill in our daughter as she gets older, but there’s something special about seeing it play out in such a variety of instances. The only thing that most of the girls Parker photographed have in common is their ability to remain strong and true to the person God made them to be regardless of whatever trials they face. To reinforce that truth, woven throughout the pictures—which comprise the majority of the book—are quotes from the girls themselves and other famous women that embody the greater message of the book.
There is not a single page, from the introduction to the author’s final thoughts, that stands bereft of the vital lesson that, as E. E. Cummings put it, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
While that fight is difficult, it’s made easier when we remember that traits like independence, strength, and strong principles are not qualities that we have to instill in our kids so much as they are characteristics that we have to nurture. God has planted those seeds, and our job is simply to help them grow.
Our children are fearfully and wonderfully made, with a personality and calling all their own. Strong is the New Pretty reminded me that the most important thing I can do for my kids is to help them understand who God made them to be and that they will never need to be anything or anyone else. Though sometimes it will mean setting aside our dreams for our kids in order to help them pursue their own, such a perspective will always be best for them.