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LaShea Iyonna Way, owner of Princess Iyonna’s Princess Parties (Photo courtesy of L. I. Way)

Before Princess Tiana premiered as Walt Disney’s first African-American princess in the 2009 film “The Princess and the Frog,” the D.C. metro area had Princess Iyonna.

As a former model, LaShea Iyonna Way recognized a lack of diversity among princesses in mainstream media. With a four-year-old daughter to raise, she started Princess Iyonna’s Princess Parties as a way to bring familiar faces of beauty to young girls of color.

“I wanted to show my daughter that there are beautiful women who look like her without having blond hair and blue eyes—that diversity and beauty comes in all colors,” Way told the AFRO.

With an array of gowns, hairstyles and makeup to choose from, parents make special requests on how Princess Iyonna will appear at their daughters’ parties, often for birthday celebrations.

“I love seeing the little girls’ faces when I walk through the door,” said Way. “They literally freak out, jump up and down and scream—they’re just so excited.”

The company’s parties are centered on a common pastime.

“All little girls love playing in mommy’s makeup so I do their nails, I do their makeup and then we have a red carpet runway fashion show where parents can take pictures and they can strut their stuff on the runway and feel like models,” said Way.

Outside of princess parties, Way also hosts events such as etiquette classes, showing there’s more to life than outer appearance.

She also uses her brand to promote high self-esteem and self-confidence to a generation of selfie-obsessed teenagers. At local high schools including her alma mater, Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County, Md., Way has spoken about the dangers of social media to young girls who battle daily with physical insecurities in competitive environments.

“Image is so important nowadays especially being that they have instagram and everybody’s posting their pictures and comparing themselves to everyone else,” she said. “That’s a huge problem with our youth—no one’s satisfied with the way they look and they always think they could look better.”

Way left her modeling career at age 19 after being exposed to “vixen modeling,” an overly sexualized form of modeling concerned with body type and physical alterations often leading to unwanted contention among women.

At the end of the day, your attitude and your education is more essential than anything else, Way tells young women.

“Looks aren’t everything,” she said. “Your personality will shine through no matter what. If you’re a good person on the inside you’re going to look good on the outside—just feel good about yourself, that’s the most important thing.”

Still, if young women of color are going to perceive images in all layers, why not expose them to beauty cloaked in black and brown skin, she said.

For more info on Princess Iyonna’s Princess Parties, visit