Being Mama: Kate T Parker
To celebrate and support 2020’s Day of the Girl, we couldn’t think of anyone more perfect than, “Play Like A Girl” and “Strong Is The New Pretty” photographer and author, Kate T Parker to talk to! The epitome of female empowerment, Kate is here to chat about why she chooses to capture images that celebrate girls for what they do as opposed to what they look like as well as what it’s like to be ‘Mama’ to Ella, 15, and Alice, 12.
If Kate T Parker had a parenting class, we would totally sign up for it. Full of wisdom, strength, resilience and unsurprisingly – a hilarious sense of humor, this Atlanta based mama of two is the epitome of #MomGoals and we couldn’t be more excited to get to talk to her.
On top of being a complete legend of a mother, Kate is also an award-winning photographer and the New York Times Best Selling Author of Play Like A Girl, Strong Is The New Pretty, and The Heart Of A Boy.
If you want to scroll through her Instagram or dive deep into her online portfolio, be sure to clear your schedule and do some joint-loosening exercises because you will spend hours absorbing some of the most emotive and heart-warming imagery you’ve ever seen. We mention the joint-loosening exercises because you’ll keep wanting to send certain posts and pictures to family and friends because it there’s one thing Kate does best – it’s capture refreshingly relatable moments that instantly make you feel happy.
For someone who did not show any real interest in photography until after having her first baby fifteen years ago, it’s inspiring to see how Kate went from hobby family photographer to internationally recognized commercial photographer and author! But before we dive into how she didn’t have a clear plan for her photography career nor an inkling to write a book, let’s go back to see how Kate became mama to Ella, 15, and Alice, 12.
“Unfortunately, I had kind of a rough start to motherhood. Not in regard to the conception or pregnancy part… it was just one week after Ella arrived that everything went downhill. While I considered myself an informed person going into motherhood, the truth is I didn’t really know how I was supposed to be feeling after giving birth. Swollen legs, pounding headache, sore stomach, confusion and extreme exhaustion were normal, right? Even at my first follow up appointment my OB sort of dismissed my comments and explained my symptoms away.
Two days later I had two seizures.
The first one happened at 6am after feeding Ella. I walked into my bathroom and realized that I had forgotten why I had gone in there. I couldn’t even think of what actions I was supposed to take. Feeling disoriented, I found my husband to tell him I didn’t feel right. All of a sudden, I fell over. After he got me into bed, he called the doctor and they tried to calm him by saying, ‘It’s okay – just lie down…’ but then apparently I started screaming, ‘Call 911!’ and then started seizing.
After I had the episode, I was completely confused. I didn’t know who my husband was nor that I had a baby. I did see that my husband’s finger was badly bitten because he made the mistake of putting his finger in the mouth of someone who is having a seizure. Petrified at the time, he thought I was gonna choke on my tongue. Once in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital I had ANOTHER seizure. It turns out, I had HELLP Syndrome. HELLP, which represents the abnormalities, Hemolysis EL: elevated liver enzymes LP: low platelet count, is a disorder of the liver and blood.
While the previous doctor had dismissed my comments and told me my stomach hurt because of gas and that I was swollen from my IV, this new medical team explained that what I had been feeling was my liver failing and my body shutting down. As for my husband, he had to get evaluated for a human bite and still has a scar on his hand from where I bit him.
I just kept thinking how lucky that I wasn’t holding my baby or driving my car when it happened.”
After this terrifying experience, Kate became understandably worried that she might have another seizure. If she knew she was going to be home alone with Ella and didn’t feel well (even if it was just a headache or cold), she resorted to strolling her baby in the front yard so that if she did collapse, her baby wouldn’t be abandoned inside and hopefully a passerby would know to help.
“I knew in my head, nothing was going to happen, but it was so hard not to be anxious. I want to go back and hug my 27-year-old self and tell her:
It’s okay. You’re feeling weird because you’re anxious. You’re anxious because this terrible thing happened, not because it’s going to happen again.
I actually think I had PTSD for a few years. I remember sitting in a hair salon while getting my hair highlighted. I started to feel very anxious. After trying to calm down in the bathroom, I ended up asking the hairdresser to remove my foils prematurely and let me go home. At that point, I knew I needed to go talk to somebody because the fear of having a seizure was impacting my life.
In my previous life, I had the Nike ‘Just do it’ mentality. You know – you just need to toughen up, get it done and move on. But it was after the hairdresser panic attack that I realized that sometimes you just can’t toughen up. Sometimes you can’t do it. This made me be a better person, better mom and definitely a better friend.”
Luckily, Kate’s daughter, Alice, entered the world in a much less traumatic way. This allowed her to adjust to life as a mother of two, take time to think about if and how she was going to return to her career in advertising and discover her love of photography.
“Like most moms, I wanted a lot of photos of my kids because I didn’t want to forget anything. However, since I worked in media for so long, I was accustomed to working with some pretty amazing photographers and felt like I wanted that level of photography. The issue: I didn’t want to pay for it! haha That’s when I decided to try and do it myself!
I ended up teaching myself how to shoot manually and edit through YouTube tutorials. Once I would master one thing, I’d move onto the next. Slowly, I started gaining confidence and couldn’t deny just how much I enjoyed snapping photos of my family and friends. That’s when I decided that maybe I’d become a professional family photographer instead of going back to work. Anxious not to return to the long hours that come with the advertising world, I borrowed $2000 from my husband (Even though I paid the loan back in full, he jokes that he is my angel investor) and set up a photography businesses.”
Since 2007, Kate’s growth as a photographer has happened organically and exponentially. Although her focus was initially on families, she now photographs both personal projects and commercial work for clients across the world including REI, Verizon, American Express, and many others. She’s also done collaborations with brands such as Girl Scouts of the USA, Disney, Athleta, Kellogg’s, and NBC.
While it’s wild to think about where she is today, Kate credits some of her success to a ‘failed’ photo series.
“I worked really hard on a photo series called Strong Is The New Pretty for a gallery and sadly – nothing sold. Not a single image. Instead of getting upset and admitting that I felt like a worthless failure, I truly believed that there was something powerful in the images and something important in the message.
We live in the south and most of the images of little girls that I saw were of them dressed perfectly in smocked dresses and proudly wearing little ringlets.
My girls didn’t look like that and they didn’t want to look like that and I didn’t want them to look like that.
I also didn’t want them to change who they were or have to change out of their dirty muddy outfits and brush their hair to be considered acceptable or beautiful. As they got older, the images that I’d see of girls, especially on social media were all FaceTuned, altered or even photoshopped. I didn’t want this. That’s why I tried to put imagery out there in the world that celebrated girls for what they did as opposed to what they look like. It was really important to me that my girls knew that if I was taking their picture, I didn’t want them to do any sort of prep. I wanted them to be exactly who they were and not to change.
As a result – I acted like a PR person and sent my Strong Is The New Pretty pitch and photos to as many relevant girl power blogs I could find. Nobody ran it. So I kept sending it out. And then one day – one person ran it, and then another person ran it. And then CNN reached out and wanted to run something and then The Today Show and then a book a publisher reached out and then after that a literary agent reached out and that my friends, is how my first book, Strong Is The New Pretty, came to life! Yes, that’s Ella on the cover! (Alice is on the cover of Play Like A Girl!)”
Kate followed up Strong Is The New Pretty with a guided journal version as well as the book, The Heart Of A Boy, which features her adorable nephew on the cover!
Both are designed to be enjoyed by both kids and parents. Peppered with inspiring and endearing quotes, sage life advice and empowering imagery, they’re books that will live in hearts and on nightstands for years.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an international photographer, neurosurgeon, actress, lawyer or stay at home parent – we can all relate to the ups and downs of parenting. And of course – Kate is no different!
“As a parent – I’m all about picking my battles. There are things that are very very very important to me. For example, I want my kids to be polite, have integrity and be kind. I don’t care that much if they eat all their vegetables. I don’t care if their rooms are that neat. I don’t care if their clothes match. The things that were important to me – I really fought for. But you can’t do that with everything. You have to figure out what are your values and impart that in how important you take those things with your kids.
The hard part is letting my kids fail. I find it really hard to not step in and fix things or solve things. As an adult, I can see that four steps down the road that this step you’re taking is a terrible idea, but if I tell my 15-year-old that, she’s not going to learn that lesson because she’s not going to fail. Letting my kids fall on their face (a little bit) is really hard, but it’s so important that they learn how to pick themselves back up.”
Even though her career has taken her into many different situations, Kate keeps one piece of advice handy:
“Trust my gut. Especially on commercial shoots. You’re basically trying to help someone else’s vision come to life. So what you think is good sometimes gets lost. And then when you question what you’re shooting or how you’re shooting it and trying to shoot it how someone else might like it, you’re not going to get the reason why they hired you.
My advice for creatives: try to remember what are the qualities that got you the job in the first place and use those. I always try to remember this if I’m feeling lost on a job or thinking “I don’t know what they want or they don’t seem happy.” If I shoot something I’m proud of, that’s usually what they wanted.”
Kate’s most recent book, Play Like A Girl, is in many ways paying homage to her own childhood and the way soccer shaped her life.
“Even though I didn’t have dreams of being a professional soccer player (because at that time, it didn’t exist for women), I always knew I wanted soccer in my life in some capacity. I really loved the game and I really loved who I got to be when I was playing the game. All of the things that made me a good soccer player – like being super tenacious, aggressive and loud were the qualities my coaches loved and celebrated. However those same qualities weren’t as appreciated by teachers nor accepted by society. Off the field I could sense the world wanted me to be quiet and passive. I believe that if soccer hadn’t encouraged that part of me, I would have lost those qualities and wouldn’t be the strong woman I am today.
When my publisher approached me about doing a book about girls and women who love soccer, I was like I LOVE THIS IDEA!!!! While we wanted to have it out for the summer olympics (which did not happen thanks to Covid-19), I’m still so proud with what we created and how it’s been received. It’s a book I would have loved to have as a child. It captures the joy, confidence, focus, and camaraderie that come with playing the world’s most beautiful game.”
“Excerpted from Play Like a Girl: Life Lessons from the Soccer Field by Kate T. Parker (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2020.”