OPINION: Finding inspiration in a new generation of girls

Atlanta-based photographer Kate Parker, pictured with her kids and dog, has a new book filled with girls (and women) finding and using their voices. Image credit: Workman Press.

Credit: Kate Parker

Credit: Kate Parker

Atlanta-based photographer Kate Parker, pictured with her kids and dog, has a new book filled with girls (and women) finding and using their voices. Image credit: Workman Press.

“I screamed as loud as I could and then just jumped.”

This is a quote from 13-year-old Sydney, reflecting on the moment she jumped into a large body of water as six friends and family members watched. It was one moment in her life, but I’m sure there will be many other times before she becomes an adult when those words will be applicable, at least figuratively.

Sydney is one of more than 300 girls who appear in the new book by Atlanta-based author and photographer Kate T. Parker.

“Force of Nature: A Celebration of Girls and Women Raising Their Voices” is to me the capstone of Parker’s near decade-long project to capture the words and images of girls and women nationwide as they tackle challenges and overcome fears.

Parker and I met back in 2016, several months before her first book, “Strong is the New Pretty,” was released.

The idea for the book was hatched after Parker saw the reaction to an image she shot and posted of her youngest daughter.

Alice, then 4, stood in a rainstorm wearing her swimsuit, arms outstretched and mouth wide in a scream. The photo went viral and became a social media meme with the caption: “Remember her? She’s still there … inside you … waiting. Let’s go get her.”

A new book from Atlanta-based photographer Kate Parker features hundreds of girls and women, sharing stories about how they found and used their voices to help themselves and others. Image credit: Kate Parker.

Credit: Kate Parker

icon to expand image

Credit: Kate Parker

A friend and I recently traded images and videos of our daughters in their early years: doing cartwheels, singing loudly, and my favorite — my daughter at age 8 running top speed down the sidewalk in a red-tutu and boots.

In that moment, she was exhibiting a mix of freedom, power and strength. We all possessed that. But, for so many of us, those feelings peaked before we even knew how valuable they were. We then spend the rest of our lives trying to get them back.

“When you are 5 to 8 years old, before you lose your confidence, you think you can do anything. And you don’t care what people think of you. You don’t care what you look like. You are taking up space and owning it,” said Parker. “I want to remind women of how they felt and remind girls not to lose that part of themselves.”

The same year Parker’s first book was released, the Girls Scout Research Institute published “The State of Girls,” a report focused solely on the health and well-being of 26 million girls in the U.S.

The findings for Georgia were not great. The state ranked 44 out of 50 states on the well-being of girls, dropping seven places from the previous decade.

Statistics can be disheartening and disappointing. But Parker said her conversations — with the thousands of girls she’s photographed over the past decade — leave her hopeful. “I feel like this generation of girls, especially, are more open-minded and more progressive and more willing to allow for differences in their friends,” she said. “There is more acceptance and generally more opportunities for them.”

Many of the girls featured in “Force of Nature” found their voices through activities. Arianna Pappas, 15 when she was photographed, played rugby with the all-girls club, the Atlanta Valkyries. “When I play rugby, I feel strong and confident and fully myself,” she said. “I feel like a leader, and I take that feeling with me wherever I go – on and off the pitch.”

Zoe Oli launched her own line of dolls with curly and braided hairstyles that reflect the natural beauty of Black girls’ hair. She was 10 years old when she was photographed. She wants other girls to know they are beautiful and smart just as they are. “What you tell yourself is really what you believe about yourself,” she said.

Some of the girls Parker interviewed found their strength in advocating for others, and some found it in advocating for themselves.

Parker and I agreed that, even as women in our middle years, these girls inspire us.

“It makes me want to do better. I want as much as possible to live a life and create work that I can be proud that someone 20, 30, 40 years my junior is looking at,” Parker said.

These girls make me want to do better as well. They remind me that, in this column, I have a platform to use my voice in ways that many people do not. And I want to use it wisely, in support of girls and women.

It is hard to find your voice. It is even harder to use it, amplify it and sustain it. But that’s what the girls and women in Parker’s book are doing every day, in their own way.

Parker decided to use the image of her daughter on the cover of ”Force of Nature.” Though internet users took that photo and made it their own, the words of 4-year-old Alice ring truer than any meme ever could:

“Sometimes I have to yell, really loud, to make sure I am heard.”

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