Editor’s Note: Babble is a part of the Walt Disney Company.
Children all over the world have grown up with Disney Princesses as their role models for decades now. And for young girls especially, the independence and inherent strength of characters like Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, serve as a catalyst for their own ambitions.
It’s that very strength and independence that photographer Kate T. Parker, creator of the photo series “Strong is the New Pretty,” hopes to showcase in every image she takes. Parker tells me that what’s most important in her work is “showing girls and women what is possible” — and that’s never been more apparent than in her latest project.
Parker recently teamed with Disney for the #DreamBigPrincess global photo campaign to encourage kids everywhere to embrace the traits of the Disney Princesses who have long inspired them. Parker, along with 18 other female photographers from 15 countries around the world, have photographed real-life girls and women to celebrate both their diversity and their strength. In collaboration with the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up program — of which I serve as a teen advisor and co-director of the New York Coalition — Disney is working to empower girls all around the world. Parker’s photos for #DreamBigPrincess serve as a testament to the strength of real girls everywhere, through the lens of Disney Princesses.
Parker’s photos focus on three distinct and unique subjects: Her daughter, Alice Parker (pictured below), The Blasters (her daughter’s soccer team, which Parker coaches), and Grace Bunke, a 14-year-old cancer survivor and aspiring Paralympic runner. The stories of the girls are magnified by how they present themselves in front of Parker’s camera.
Alice challenges the camera, wearing a Snow White dress covered in mud, which represents her love of being active while still having a love of “dressing up and playing with dolls.”
It can be all too easy to slip into stereotypes when talking about the interests of young girls, but Parker’s photos aim to transcend common binaries in order to portray what young girls are really like. Parker believes that girls can be both “tom-boys [and] girly-girls,” and her images certainly show a mixture of both sides — while leaving each girl room to define what that means to them.
The other girls on Alice’s soccer team represent this idea as well, as they run and play in their dresses. Parker says that what stands out to her is the confidence and sense of self in each girl and how fearless they are on the field. “They really just want to win,” she says, which she believes is something girls should try to remember as they grow up, and not let that confidence fade away with time.
Parker also photographed Grace Bunke, an amazing athlete who was diagnosed with aggressive bone cancer at age 11 that resulted in a foot amputation. In order to continue pursuing her dream of becoming a professional runner, she had her foot reattached in reverse on her knee joint. In her photos, Parker captures Grace running, her arms outstretched to the sky, as if in celebration of her ability to enjoy her favorite sport.
Parker explains that Grace’s “sense of joy and hopefulness” continue to inspire her, as she retains these qualities even in the face of “really horrible luck.” Parker’s favorite photo is a black-and-white portrait of Grace staring straight into the camera, wearing a tiara. Parker says that Grace looks “strong and unapologetic” in this portrait, as if she is saying “this is who I am and what I want to do and I dare you to challenge me.”
Parker believes that the #DreamBigPrincess photo campaign is important because “sometimes society is geared towards minimizing girls and not letting them have a voice.” In her photos, the viewer can witness the sheer power of young girls when they are just being who they want to be.
Parker wants to do “anything [she] can to maximize that voice in girls.” As girls grow up, often their belief in their own innate awesomeness gets “chipped away” with time, but with organizations such as Girl Up and inspirations like the Disney Princesses, girls are able to see that they can be valued for who they are — and their voices do matter.
Parker says that as a child, she was “rough and loud and too much.” Over time, she was taught that she had to apologize for being herself. If she had access to campaigns such as #DreamBigPrincess, she feels she could have learned that “it was more than okay” to be who she was.
Girls should be unafraid to be loud and passionate, just as the girls in Parker’s photographs are. Because when young girls grow up with strong, inspirational female images — like those in Parker’s photos, and the examples set by Disney Princesses — they can become independent thinkers who are destined for greatness.
From August 15-October 11, 2017, like a public image with #DreamBigPrincess or post your own photo publicly using #DreamBigPrincess on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and Disney Worldwide Services will donate US$1 to Girl Up for each action, for a minimum donation of US$500,000 and a maximum of US$1 Million. Proceeds will go towards Girl Up’s many programs supporting adolescent girls’ leadership and empowerment.