Why I was jealous of my daughter in this viral photo

I am a photographer and mom to two girls. I take pictures of my daughters all the time, and while they’re mostly in focus and exposed correctly, many of them are unremarkable. My camera roll is about the same as most moms’ — filled with photos of family vacations, new haircuts, sometimes an impatient teenager. But every once in a while, I take a picture that I know is just right the second I click the shutter. I love those moments.

In 2014, I took a photo of my youngest daughter that I knew was going to resonate the moment I took it. Alice, who was 5 at the time, wanted to go outside and play in the rain. I obliged and followed her with my camera, careful to cover the lens and body with a plastic bag. Alice is generally enthusiastic, energetic and loud, and on this day, she was all three in full force: running around, screaming at the top of her lungs, drenched and loving it.

This frame was the best of the few shots I got that day. I loved her powerful stance and how she claimed her space. She is fully inhabiting the moment, enjoying herself and paying zero attention to how she looks. And I wasn’t the only person who was moved by the image. After I posted it to Facebook, someone added a few lines of text to the bottom of the photo: “Remember her? She is still there inside you… waiting… Let’s go get her.” It was quickly shared over 40,000 times.

The photo raised many emotions in me. Proud of my girl, proud of myself for getting the shot, blown away by her ability to be free, but also, oddly, jealous. Why couldn’t I be that powerful, joyful or uninterested in others’ opinions of me? Why couldn’t I scream and play in the rain? Where was that little girl in me?

I couldn’t remember the last time that I felt that free or confident. Like a lot of moms of young kids, I was very busy taking care of them, and with work and life in general. My plate was full and screaming in the rain was not on my very long to-do list. Presenting a polished and put-together image of a mom who has it together was important, even if at times I felt just the opposite. Alice’s picture ignited something in me. I wanted that spark back. I loved that my daughter was reminding me of who I used to be, and that she was still a part of me. I just had to find her.

I also felt a sense of urgency — how do I keep my girls from losing that spirit? Research has shown that girls’ confidence takes a nosedive between 8 and 14. I want to know how we can prevent it and, if they do lose it, how we can help them get it back.

I have made an effort to do things that make me feel a little more like Alice did that day outside in the rain. I think we all need to do more things that make you lose yourself, that make you forget to check your messages. Do more that makes you forget what you look like. I decided to run a marathon, and I loved how it made me feel. There is a photo of me crossing the finish line at the Chicago Marathon last year — beyond exhausted but grinning triumphantly — that is my version of Alice’s shot.

Alice Parker (Courtesy Kate T. Parker)
Alice Parker (Courtesy Kate T. Parker)

I have traveled the country over the last decade photographing other girls in pinnacle moments like these. In my book “Force of Nature,” I have images of girls who placed in their state wrestling tournament wrestling against boys. There are girls who started their own companies at 10 years old to fill a void in dolls that had curly, black hair just like theirs. I talked to girls who were tired of pancaking their ballet shoes with makeup to match their skin tone and are doing all they can to increase the representation of underrepresented populations in ballet. Girls who were so frustrated by the changes to Title IX in their schools that they hired a lawyer and sued the U.S. government.

It’s been 10 years since the photo of Alice went viral but it’s still bouncing around the internet. I hope every woman who sees the image, whether it’s for the first time or the 30th, is reminded of a time they felt this way: unstoppable and unselfconscious. And I want to remind the next generation of girls — our girls — to hold on to this feeling.

Do more things that make you feel like this.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com