WESTFIELD, NJ – When Kate Parker envisions the future, she hopes to see strong young girls who are confident in themselves, she said.

Parker is the author of “Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls being Themselves,” a book full of photos of girls and quotes about what makes them strong, beautiful, confident and powerful. The Westfield native will be in town on Friday, June 2, to hold a talk, book signing and photo session at Poe Yoga.

Her book was inspired by her two young daughters; Ella, age 11, and Alice, age 8.

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“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,” Parker said. “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.”

Parker is a true New Jersey native. She lived in Westfield until she was in first grade, when her family moved to Millington. After Millington, they moved to Gillette, then Tewksbury, before she moved to North Carolina to attend Wake Forest University, where she played soccer. 

“I loved living in Westfield,” Parker said. “I loved being able to walk to McKinley School with a big group of friends and neighbors, getting candy at Prospector’s, shopping for soccer gear at the Leader Store and birthday celebrations at the Jolly Trolley.”

Currently, Parker lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughters.

“I am so excited to come back.” Parker said. “I am definitely planning to visit our old house and get pizza at Ferraro’s.”

As a wife, mother, athlete and professional photographer (both personally and commercially), Parker is undoubtedly a strong woman in her own right. But she didn’t learn true strength until she traveled the country for “Strong is the New Pretty,” photographing hundreds of girls with different backgrounds and stories, she said.

“As the project grew, I learned that strength doesn’t always come in one package, and it doesn’t always manifest itself the way it does in my girls,” Parker said. “Strength isn’t always loud and feisty. Strength can be in the face of a musician creating music because it is inside of her. Strength can be changing tables in the lunchroom because your ‘friends’ weren’t actually your friends. Strength can be meeting a cancer diagnosis with unrelenting positivity. Throughout the making of this book, I was and continue to be so inspired by the girls and young women who are featured between its covers.”

The girls featured in the book are athletes, sisters, soldiers, artists and friends, among others who have accomplished great feats. Parker was especially impressed with Aris, a 16-year-old pilot.

“She knew what she wanted to do at 13, took lessons, studied and has already flown solo,” Parker said.  “I commend her drive, follow-through and ability to let nothing stand in her way.” 

Parker hopes to create another book similar to “Strong Is the New Pretty,” and said she’ll never stop shooting for this project.

“These girls are the faces of a new generation of women who don’t need someone to tell them that ‘it is what is inside that counts,’ because they already know it,” Parker said.

As today’s girls grow older, Parker hopes they continue to use their strength like a muscle that needs exercise. The more girls use their strength, the easier and more natural it will become, she said.

“Your value as a female doesn’t reside with how you look," Parker said. “As a mother with two young girls growing up in this age of filters, Snapchat, Instagram and Photoshopped everything, the message needs to be heard more than ever. The pressure that young women feel these days is new. The internet brings it to an entirely new level. I just wanted to provide a place, a message and images that celebrated girls for who they really are. I wanted girls to know that was enough.”

Parker looks forward to meeting and connecting with girls across the country. She’ll hold a speech and book signing at Poe Yoga at 128 Elm St. in Downtown Westfield on Friday, June 2, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.