5-Year-Old Girl with Cancer Proves 'Bald Is Beautiful' in Disney Princess-Inspired Photo Shoot
A 5-year-old girl battling an aggressive form of kidney cancer was able to forget about her health challenges for a bit when she transformed into a Disney princess as part of one photographer's heartwarming photo shoot.
Ryan Taft tells PEOPLE that being able to watch his daughter Arianna dress up as her favorite Disney princesses for a once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot was unlike any experience he's witnessed as a father.
"To see her dressed as her favorite magical princess and all the other ones is just incredible," he tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!). "I look at the photos and I know it's Ari, I know it's my daughter, but it literally looks like she could be starring in her own movie, which is just super special and amazing."
Those magical photos — featuring Arianna as Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Elsa from Frozen and Merida from Brave — were all thanks to photographer Ashley Richer, who has been donating themed photo shoots to children with cancer since 2018.
Richer says the idea first came to her after her son's best friend Lia passed away from the disease in 2017.
"She lost her battle right before she turned two. And after that, I just knew I had to do something like, what can I do to help these kids when they're sick?" she recalls. "I decided to do what I know best, which is creating magic from a camera."
"It wasn't until I started doing these sessions that realized that this was exactly what I was meant to do," Richer adds. "Just make other people's lives better by something so simple as taking a photo and then just being creative with it."
Eventually, a client of hers told her about Arianna, who was diagnosed with an advanced form of kidney cancer earlier this year.
"She had a 13-centimeter tumor on her kidney," Ryan shares of his daughter's journey. "They removed the tumor and the kidney, and the surgery was a success, but she still had cancer on her other kidney, her lungs, her liver, her lymph nodes."
While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, Arianna began to lose her hair. In support of his daughter, Ryan and his girlfriend, Taylor Seaboyer, decided to also shave their heads.
"Taylor was actually the first one," Ryan explains. "And Ariana got to cut her hair and do all of that, and she loved the process."
Once Richer heard about Arianna's story, she knew she had to help the little girl. After getting in touch with Ryan and finding out which princesses were Arianna's favorites, Richer bought the outfits and then planned the magical photo shoot.
In front of a green screen, she snapped the smiling child in various princess outfits and poses as she channeled the characters. Later, Richer edited the photos into a background that fit with the specific Disney film.
Though Arianna was initially shy, her family says the "silly, happy" girl was a natural in front of the camera.
"Instantly like she was a model, like having so much fun, smiling the entire time," Seaboyer says of the shoot.
Adds Ryan: "She just looks like Elsa, when she gets her magic powers and she's just conjuring up a storm. That is everything that Arianna's embodied since that movie came out."
"I know we've been smiling nonstop since she got to go down there," the proud father continues. "It really is one of the big bright spots throughout her treatment process."
The moment was equally as memorable for Richer, who notes how Arianna will forever hold a special place in her heart.
"She is just the sweetest little thing," Richer shares. "She is now a friend for me for life. She's awesome."
As Arianna works towards finishing her chemotherapy, Ryan says his daughter is the epitome of strength as she uses this moment to send an important message to little girls around the world.
"You hear cancer and you think all the bad things that are associated with it, but... she hasn't allowed a single day to be difficult," he explains. "You can't look at her and see what she's going through and not feed off of that strength."
"To see her do something that's really like a once-in-a-lifetime experience just puts into perspective to enjoy all the little things, but also the big things, and to really focus on the positive," Ryan adds. "She's just representative of bald is beautiful and bald can be a Disney princess, and she's loving on every minute of it."