"My daughter did not understand what it meant," Costa recalled. "He said, 'It means you suck at baseball.' I said, 'That's terrible. Don't say that.'"
Costa began to mull over the phrase and its meaning and what it could and should mean to her young daughter -- and all girls. She also began to take notice of the many girls around her who were in sports.
A Danville photographer who had built a business specializing in photos of newborns, children and families, Costa began to focus on girls in athletic endeavors.
"Initially I started to take pictures of my son's sports teams -- it was fun to do action shots," she said.
When Hannah asked if she could take photos of her gymnastics, Costa hesitated because she wasn't sure that she would be welcomed in the gym with her camera. But when she asked around, she received a positive response. Then she began reaching out to other friends and their daughters about recording them in action.
"I wanted to show my daughter that 'playing like a girl' is not an insult," Costa said. "It is a good thing."
She also found she was drawn to the focus and precision that occurs when the body is captured in motion. And she was moved by the efforts of her subjects.
"What really stirred me was that some of the things these girls were doing were awe-inspiring," Costa said.
She also asked each subject what it meant to "play like a girl."
"Whether they were 6 or 18, they all truly seemed to believe that to 'play like a girl' is a powerful thing," Costa said. "None had negative things to say about that."
As people asked what she would do with the photos, Costa began to mull over the idea of presenting her work in a book. She published "Play Like A Girl" in June, with 38 pages of girls of different ages and skill levels in a variety of activities.
"By turning this photo series into a book, my hope is for girls to see these photographs and be inspired to try new things, to be brave and to never feel they are at a disadvantage because they are female," Costa wrote in the introduction. "Each of the girls photographed in this book exemplify what it means to be strong, confident, fierce and empowered."
"All the parents were so supportive, and the daughters were so proud to be in it," Costa reported.
She launched the book at Lemon, a gift shop on East Prospect Avenue in Danville, and the subjects dressed in their girly finest to attend. They had a great time autographing their photos in the book, Costa said with a laugh.
"I donated the royalties to the Women's Sports Foundation, out of New York, because they were so supportive and wonderful," Costa said. "I wanted the money to go for something that aligned with the book."
She will continue to donate a portion of the proceeds to a Bay Area nonprofit group that promotes girls sports. The book sells for $18.99 in paperback and $26.95 in hardback, available at Lemon, local bookstores and online.
Costa, 37, was herself a competitive gymnast growing up and is now a long distance runner. Her husband Adam, a firefighter, grew up in San Ramon playing soccer, football, basketball and baseball, and their son Nate is doing these sports, too. In addition to her gymnastics, Hannah enjoys horseback riding, soccer and softball.
"I want to expose both of them to as many things as possible," Costa said.
She remembered struggling as a teen with self-confidence but her own mother had instilled a message in her: Girls can try anything. So it never crossed her mind that she couldn't participate in any activity, and she was never self-conscious about how she ran or looked as she participated.
"The message of my book is to encourage girls to try anything," Costa said. "I promote that and believe in that. This is a unique opportunity to help promote self-love in girls -- that they are powerful and fierce and amazing just the way they are."
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