My daughter is a pretty expressive kid when it comes to her clothes.

Since kindergarten has started, she’s picked out her five days of outfits on Sunday and proudly displayed them in her room.

She likes bright colors and anything that twirls or sparkles. She loves them so much, in fact, that she was devastated when her tee ball team was given black as a team color—a color that she usually doesn’t wear unless its bedazzled.

This interest in caring about what she wears is new in the last couple months and it’s been fun watching her self-expression shine. You see the confidence on her face when she’s in something that makes her feel good. You feel the joy in the twirl she uses to show me what she’s picked. And most importantly, that smile she wears is her shiniest accessory.

As a kid, I was a tomboy. 

While my style has evolved as an adult and I enjoy dressing up and using my clothes as a way to complement my personality, my “dressing up” involves a lot of neutral, solid colors (with a whole lotta black in my closet!). Before this recent interest in her clothes, I purchased things that my taste was personally drawn to, but today I don’t dare buy something that doesn’t blind you with its brightness.

Today is picture day at school.

I do family photography for a living so I assure you I have plenty of pictures to document her at this age, but there is something about the tradition of the school picture that I love. (Yes. Even I succumb to buying one of those packages on the form.)

Like every day, she picked out her outfit and came into my room this morning with SUCH excitement about what she was going to wear in front of the lens.

But instead of seeing the joy on her face, all I saw were the words and images on her shirt.

When I’m working with families prior to their photo session, I always encourage them to choose outfits without words or pictures on them. The reason? Sometimes they can distract the eye when you’re looking at the picture which takes away from the connection, expressions and emotions I want them to cherish in their final images.

So, on picture day, when she picked one of the few things in her closet that had both words AND pictures on it, I couldn’t “not” see it.

I hesitated for a second, knowing that I’ve always embraced her letting her style shine, but in a moment of weakness, I decide to “gently encourage” her to take another look in her closet for something else that might be just as beautiful and fun. And the MILLISECOND that she recognized that I didn’t love what she was wearing, the joy fell off her face. She disappointedly looked at me and asked, “Mom, why can’t I wear this? I love this!”

I looked down at the bedazzled words on her dress.

“Born to Sparkle.”

I let out an “I screwed up” sigh, looked at her deflated expression, kissed her on the forehead and said, “You CAN wear that, honey. And I can’t wait to see the picture!” Then she hopped away with the same joy with which she initially came in.

I took a second to marinate in the lesson.

She really IS born to sparkle. She’s always been that kid.

I constantly think about the fact that I KNOW her peers/society will come in and say things that will try to make that sparkle fade as she goes through life. And I have always vowed to help be a power source for that shine.

So why was I trying to pull the plug this morning?

Because I wouldn’t personally choose that outfit for picture day? Because as a photographer I was worried about the words getting cut off and being a distraction in the picture?

Looks like I was almost the one that distracted the picture. That took her joy. That took her confidence. That took away her innocent excitement about self-expression. That took away her born-with-it shine.

I’m OK with what happened today. I’m not going to beat myself up because I learned a lesson, and I will never feel bad about that. And SHE also showed me that she could stand tall in her self-expression choices. And while that might pose some issues when she’s a teenager and wants to walk out the door in something less-than-appropriate, I’ll handle that battle when it comes.

For now, I’ll wait for those pictures to show up in her book bag in a couple of weeks. And even though those “Born To Shine” letters will probably be cut off in the image, it won’t matter.

I’ll see able to see it on her face.

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.