When mom and photographer Heather Mitchell was a kid, she was equally attracted to athletics and an aesthetic most people don’t associate with so-called tomboys. “I played every sport my school offered and wore lipstick to every game,” she says in a statement to Motherly.

So when Mitchell was at softball practice with her 8-year-old daughter Paislee and another parent suggested that Paislee couldn’t be an athlete because she presents as a “girly girl,” Mitchell got an idea. She wanted to use her talents as a photographer to prove to her daughter that she doesn’t have to choose.

“So the next day we went to the studio and created her shot. I seriously only spent about three minutes shooting because I knew exactly what I wanted,” she explains.

When Mitchell posted the photos to her personal Facebook page she was inundated with requests from fellow parents who wanted to schedule a similar shoot for their girls. An employee posted some of the resulting shots to her business page and the rest of the internet loved Mitchell’s idea as much as her friends did.

Mitchell was on a plane with her mother when the post went up, and when she landed her notifications were blowing up. “I told mom that [Facebook] must be jacked up because I had 100 shares. I thought it was a mistake. I turned my phone off and when I turned it back on it was 500. I realized then something was happening. As of right now, my stats show that they have been viewed 18 million times,” she tells Motherly.

It’s easy to see why the images are attracting so much attention. Mitchell’s photographs prove that girls don’t have to pick a side. They are whole people, capable of liking more than one thing, capable of having diverse interests and skills.

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These beautiful photos spread a powerful message: Girls don’t have to squeeze themselves into boxes.

You can love ruffles and love basketball.

You don’t have to be a “girly girl” or a “tomboy.”

You can just be you.

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“Our daughters do not have to choose,” Mitchell tells Motherly. “My parent taught me that I could be anything I wanted growing up. I didn’t realize till I was much older that everyone is not that blessed. I hope that every little girl that sees this series can see that there is no box. Whatever their dreams are they can achieve.

Yes, they can.

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