These adorable photos turn gender stereotypes on their head
In January 2016, Whitby photographer Kirsten McGoey launched #ABoyCanToo, an ongoing series of portraits of boys between four and 18 who love doing traditionally girly things. The inspiration for the project was the second of McGoey’s three sons, now nine years old, who’s always gravitated toward the (stereotypically) feminine: ballet, Barbies, and anything pink, purple or sparkly. “I’d see articles being published about how we should to talk to our boys differently,” McGoey says. “But no one was really celebrating boys for making these kinds of choices.” She wanted to change that. So, over the past year and a half, she has photographed boys doing what they love—painting their nails, playing dress up, caring for dolls. The best part, McGoey says, is that they don’t see anything wrong with it. Here, a look at some of the portraits in the series.
McGoey took this shot of her middle son at his ballet studio in Whitby. He’s been taking lessons since he was four. “He hates practising,” says McGoey. “But he loves to twirl.” The studio even has a designated male change room. “And it’s not the bathroom, which is usually what happens for boys—kind of like women playing hockey 20 years ago.” At this studio, the male dancers get a lot of support, even though there aren’t many of them. “As they get older,” says McGoey, “they tend to drop off like flies.”
While McGoey was shooting this dress-obsessed four-year-old, he bit into his apple and fell to the ground. Surprised—and a little concerned—McGoey asked him if he was okay. “I’m being Snow White!” he snapped back. “I have to go to sleep.” Playing along, McGoey asked who would be the one to wake him up. “My prince,” he replied. And that’s when his dad came over, kissed him on the cheek, and he got back up. “He’s quite the little thespian.”
This little guy, who was around five years old at the time of the shoot, loves superheroes and baking chocolate chip cookies. McGoey was a little disappointed he didn’t bring her any.
This 13-year-old is a figure skater who regularly paints his nails. “He’s a bit older,” says McGoey, “so he’s able to really talk about his choices and what he likes.” He brought these polishes from home, and was most excited about the grey, which has a magnetic lid. After he applies the polish, he holds the lid over his nail to create wavy patterns. “He really got into this, and showed me all his different colours.”
In another shot, the same boy donned a figure-skating outfit. When he competes, he likes to put on a little bit of blush. The mirror he’s using, with the word “lovely” written across it, belongs to McGoey. “I brought that out for the shoot because I thought it told his story really well.”
This 11-year-old has been doing gymnastics since he was very young and competes with a team in Markham. “Gymnastics is the same as dance, in that there are hardly any boys,” says McGoey. “It’s harder to find good training for them.” In all of Durham, she says, there’s only one gymnastics program for boys. A couple weeks after this shoot, he developed a perfume for a school project. McGoey hopes to shoot him again.
McGoey gives her two younger sons mani-pedis at home, but the boys begged her for the real deal. She arranged for them to spend a day at Maison Blanc, a spa in Whitby, and took this shot there. “They were picking the craziest, sparkliest colours they could find,” says McGoey. “I actually didn’t get my own nails done that day. Next time, I’m going to put the camera down.”
At age three, this is the youngest boy that McGoey has photographed for the series. She first met him and his parents at an event in Whitby, where she commented on how their daughter seemed to be enjoying herself. After realizing her mistake, McGoey asked them to be a part of the project. This boy grew up with a dad who, until very recently, always had long hair, so to him it was normal. For his shoot, they left his hair wild and messy so he could whip it around.
“We went through a phase where everything was about the hair clips,” says McGoey of her youngest son. For this photo, he told his mom how to place each barrette and clip, inspected her skills in the mirror and then gave her feedback.
This boy is holding his cherished doll, Elsa from Frozen. “As you can see, Elsa is well-loved,” says McGoey. “Her hair is a rat’s nest.” For the shoot, McGoey found an old baby wrap of hers and had the little boy wear it so that he could swaddle the doll. He never specified whether he was its mother or father; he would just say, “This is my baby.”