Health & Wellness

After her mom's cancer diagnosis, photographer finds strength from daughter

A photographer mom has created a picture-perfect lesson for her 3-year-old daughter on the strength and resiliency of women. It was her creative way of coping with her own mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, and a way to show her daughter that women are fighters.

Inspired by her mother, photographer Ashley Larson, 27, taught her daughter, Scout, about notable women whose strength she admired. Together they chose a photograph of each woman and styled Scout in the same fashion for a series of stunning photos that were posted alongside the originals on Instagram.

Among the portraits in the #ScoutStoleMyStyle project are Scout turned out as Malala Yousafzai, Adele, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Betty White. “I wanted to show her, visually, women who were strong and emulate that with her,” Larson said.

Larson launched the project as a way to keep busy and keep her mind off of worrying about her mother when she got sick last year, as Larson had stopped taking on photography clients. “I didn’t want Mom or Scout to know I was kind of in panic mode,” said Larson, who also has sons who are 5 and 2 years old.

What began as a distraction turned into a life lesson for Scout, who turns 4 on June 9.

You know we had to twin with the gorgeous and hilarious @bettymwhite 😍 #ScoutStoleMyStyle #twinning #bettywhite

A post shared by Scout Penelope (@hello.scout) on

“My norm was to have my camera, so I decided to do a project for myself and it turned into a lesson for me and Scout that women are strong, and it helped to remind me that my mom is also strong,” Larson said. “It gave me peace in a time of extreme turmoil.”

For the project, Larson, of Niceville, Florida, chose women she finds resilient and fierce.

“I made a list of people who, to me, embody strength and I picked a lot of women who are funny, who are really smart people who I would be proud if my child ended up like,” Larson said.

“This project was extra special for us and Mom because we don’t believe that women are delicate and dainty,” she added.

The 20 or so women that Scout dressed up as are meaningful to Larson, Scout and Larson’s mother, Diane Willoughby.

Scout was photographed as Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl wounded by the Taliban for supporting the education of girls, as well as Taylor Swift, the artist Frida Kahlo and the actress and author Mindy Kaling.

Scout was also styled as Ellen DeGeneres, a favorite of Willoughby’s, and her own pick of Disney’s Moana.

Larson noted the photos help counter the notion that women aren’t capable.

“People doubt women because of our stature or because of what we look like,” she said. “I needed to remind myself that my mom was completely able to fight whatever was going on. Even though she’s not a big lady, she’s tough. She’s tough as nails.”

Larson started the project when she noticed her mom’s health declining at the start of last year.

Willoughby, 57, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016, and she underwent chemotherapy from June to September. The project ramped up after Larson’s kids grew worried by the sight of their Nonnie without her brown hair.

Willoughby, who was declared cancer-free after a double mastectomy in December, will undergo a preventive hysterectomy next month. She was amazed by her daughter’s work.

“I love seeing Scout's twin celebrities,” said Willoughby, who lives in the same city as Larson.

“It goes to show you that for everything that happens in this world that is bad or is hard or for every little bit of something you have to go through, something amazing can come from it, something beautiful can come from it,” she said.

A few weeks ago, Larson explained to her mom that she was the inspiration behind the photo project and convinced her to pose with Scout in matching T-shirts.

Ashley J Larson Photography
Scout and her Nonnie posing together a few weeks ago.

Even though Scout is so young, Larson feels she gained strength and understanding.

“I tried to basically give her strength and myself strength by learning about these other strong women,” Larson said. “I feel like she has a better grasp of what women are capable of. It’s the same for myself.”

“It was good for us just to have that reminder, and now we don’t even need it because we watched my mom be so tough,” Larson said.

TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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