While Alabama-based photographer Heather Mitchell was watching her eight-year-old daughter’s softball practice, a conversation with another parent sparked an idea. “One of the moms told me (my daughter) was not athletic — that she was a girly girl,” Mitchell told Today. “I couldn’t sleep that night. All I could think was, ‘Why does she have to choose?'”
It’s a good question, especially today, when conceptions of gender are more fluid. Who says you can’t be a girly girl and an athlete? After all, Serena Williams, who is widely regarded to be the greatest tennis player of all time, competed in last year’s US Open while wearing a tutu. Some girls – and boys – want sparkles and facepaint, tiaras and helmets, crinolines and cleats.
And it’s not just today’s enlightened generation; when Mitchell was a kid, she “played every sport offered and wore lipstick to every game.” “Our daughters do not have to choose,” she asserted. “My parents taught me that I could be anything I wanted growing up. I didn’t realize until I was much older that everyone is not that blessed.”
After that sleepless night, Mitchell came up with a creative idea to help other parents think outside the box. She invited her daughter, Paisley, into her studio and snapped photos of her dressed as a princess while holding softball gear. When she uploaded the images to Facebook, other parents requested similar pictures, leading to a stunning “athletic princess” photoshoot.
Mitchell uploaded the photos to her Facebook page, HMP Couture Photography, with the message: “Because you can do it all.” The pictures went viral, getting shared more than 185,000 times, with more than 35,000 comments. “I hope that every little girl that sees this series can see that there is no box,” Mitchell told Today. “Whatever their dreams are, they can achieve them.”
In the comments, several parents shared similar experiences with their daughters. “I did a similar shoot with my daughter. She’s played ball and won a beauty pageant all in one weekend!” wrote Amy St. Clair. “You do not have to choose, she is a girly girl that’s softball team was the best 16u team in the nation and they’re all beautiful. Athletes can be beautiful girly girls too!”
The photos also provoked debates about what it means to be feminine. “It’s a beautiful thing being a woman. The ability to be nurturer and strong,” observed Stacy Jenschke, while Sophie Lennon commented, “It makes me think about the real implications of being a girl. Like, even if you play sports, or are highly academic, or make music, or whatever you do, theres still an underlying expectation to be “feminine.”
To which Lisa Crowden Willard replied, “I think it shows our girls they can have the best of ALL worlds if they want it.”