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"Why does she have to choose": Mom's photos show girls they can love sports — and be girly

Girls' softball team buys phone for teammate

Little girls are told they're made of sugar and spice and everything nice. At least, according to the popular nursery rhyme. But, one Alabama mother is showing they can be whatever they want to be— by capturing stunning photos of girls as both princesses and athletes.

Photographer Heather Mitchell told CBS News she was at her 8-year-old daughter Paislee's softball practice in late March and making casual conversation with another mom. Mitchell said to the mother she hoped "Paislee learned to love the game, because she's athletic."

The other mother's reaction took her by surprise. Mitchell said she told her that Paislee is "not athletic, she's a girly girl." Later that night Mitchell couldn't sleep, bothered by the comment. 

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Mitchell's daughter Paislee was the first to be photographed in the series. Heather Mitchell/ HMP Couture Imagery

"I was thinking why does she have to choose between being girly and athletic," said the photographer. "Why can't she just be both without the judgement of it?" 

The next morning, she told her husband she needed to shoot some photos of her daughter in their photography studio, HMP Couture Imagery. Mitchell told CBS News she took about 10 photos of Paislee posing with softballs in a pink "princess" dress to show her daughter could be interested in both sports and "girly" things.

She posted a couple of them to her personal Facebook, with a Babe Ruth quote and went about her day. Mitchell was shocked by the overwhelming response.

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Some of the girls posed with basketballs as well. Heather Mitchell/ HMP Couture Imagery

The photos went viral. "It was crazy," said Mitchell. "We had just tons of friends, teammates asking them to do that for their little girls." 

So, Mitchell posted availabilty for 16 photo sessions in the style. The slots sold out in one hour. "We didn't do any advertising about it or anything, it was immediate," said Mitchell. She posted 16 more sessions — and those sold out too.

Mitchell said the sessions were a blast and she loved to see the little girls be given the freedom to express both their girly and athletic side without having to pick one.

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Mitchell said she wants to show little girls that they don't have to "choose" between being "athletic" or "girly." Heather Mitchell/ HMP Couture Imagery

"A lot of the little girls that we photographed are just so proud that they can show off both," said Mitchell. "They get to pick a pretty dress from my studio and put on dirty cleats and wear a princess crown."

Mitchell posed the little girls with softballs, basketballs and plans to incorporate soccer balls into further shoots. The girls also get to don fancy princess dresses and crowns for the sessions.

"I hope that it makes everyone think what we teach the girls," she said. "Growing up my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be. And I didn't realize that other people weren't told that."

She posted the images from the rest of the shoots on her photography studio's Facebook page on April 12 —  and these photos went viral too The post simply was captioned: "Because you can do it all."

Because you can do it all.

Posted by HMP Couture Imagery on Friday, April 12, 2019

After the initial photoshoots, Mitchell organized a follow-up with a diverse group of girls from varied backgrounds. She featured a young girl who is undergoing cancer treatment and loves softball, another girl who was adopted from the foster care system and another who was born with a partial arm.

While the photographer says it wasn't her goal to make a statement to the world, she said she's glad it's making people think.

"I hope everyone that sees them, they look at their girls and tell them can be anything they want to be," she said. 

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Girls pose with softballs during one of the follow-up photo sessions. Heather Mitchell/ HMP Couture Imagery
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