‘Strong is the New Pretty’ celebrates girls — and the inner-child in us all

(CNN)When is the last time you felt bold? Strong? I don’t just mean physically — I mean in every way. Mind, body and soul.

As kids, most of us thought we could conquer the world because no one had yet told us we couldn’t. We ran laughing through our own fairy tales and victory laps believing that the dragon we’d slain was epic and that hitting past second base into the “outfield” in backyard baseball lifted us to star status — for a bit.
But then the moment came. Do you remember it?
    The day, the event or the person that started chiseling away the strength and confidence your child-self knew? Or was it so gradual you didn’t even recognize it was happening?
    The superhero you believed you were slowly faded. First, the cape got tangled when someone told you the work wasn’t good enough. Then the mask was ripped away when they made fun of you. And finally, your ability to fly vanished when you were the last one picked for the team.
    Or maybe you weren’t chosen at all. You came crashing down to earth with the new reality that you were, I don’t know, just … human.
    Boys are often told to “be strong,” “be brave.” But when an NFL player recently told a classroom of girls to be silent and polite, I wanted to send my 7-year-old daughter (who can hurl a baseball as well as, if not better than, many boys on the team) to throw a curve ball into the classroom window and shatter the athlete’s notion that what we expect from one set of kids must be so radically different than what we expect from another.
    Look, I think he probably meant well. Maybe he just made a “poor choice of words,” as he later explained. But words matter. Actions matter.
    I’ll bet you know that — if you let your mind drift back to the moments that transported you from your childhood superhero days to the words you may speak to yourself now. The way you question yourself, your abilities, your worth.
    As we edge toward International Women’s Day on March 8 — the theme this year is #BeBoldForChange — I came across a book that made me think: Perhaps we’d all be better off if, once in a while, we’d change it up a bit and wander back to that little girl (or boy) we used to be. to let the spirit of that child out again.
    Strong is the New Pretty” by photographer Kate T. Parker is a mesmerizing trip back to an innocence we may have forgotten we had. It’s a picture book filled with captivating portraits of girls who aren’t afraid to look straight into the camera’s lens … because they don’t fear you’ll see something imperfect.
    Eleven-year-old Nour sits beaming with her prosthetic leg and proclaims, “Who likes perfect anyway? Perfect is boring.”
    As Haley, age 10, surfaces from a swim, she stares at us with aquamarine eyes and an infectious smile. She says, “I think girls everywhere should focus way more on who they are

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    inside and way less on what they look like outside. I’ve found a lot of strength in just not caring. Lake-water hair? Don’t care.”
    Then there’s 6-year-old Emma, with her sweet, squinty smile, freckles dotting her round cheeks and hair blowing in the wind. She confides, “When my mommy passed away, I stood up and faced it.”
    Standing up and facing our fears, our insecurities, our demons … that’s strong. And sometimes it’s not something you do, it’s just something you choose to be.
    Strong is as much in the push you give to the final lap of the race as it is in the quiet of your room, when you’re alone with just your thoughts, or the silence at someone’s hospital bed as you hold their hand.
    “Strong is the New Pretty” reminded me that some people are tested very early in life, yet they let the fire build them, not burn them. It reminded me that we all need to be kinder to each other and to ourselves because we all know what it feels like to be hurt.
    And it reminded me that someone else’s success takes nothing away from our own. In a world where competition seems to reign, comparison is indeed the thief of joy.
    Lastly, it reminded me that “strong” and “bold” are born in us, just as a new fierceness is born in every new mother when she has a child. It takes strength to be human.
    Strong IS the new pretty — and it’s born to be used. Go use yours.

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