It’s hard to believe that I used to be one of those girls who “didn’t get along with other girls.” I’d been fooled into believing the misogynistic lie that women are catty creatures incapable of genuine friendships. So I steered clear and decided I was “one of the guys.” What’s worse, I resented my dark skin. I was constantly reminded that light skin and “good hair” were the standard for being beautiful. With my dark skin and tightly coiled hair, my insecure teenage self could only conclude that I was not. I was a mess. I had no idea how much I needed the black women I’d later meet in the Disney community.
Having black women as friends has changed my life. They are a support system who understand me better than anyone else. I wish I could go back and tell that lost young soul of the beauty she’d find someday. I’d tell her that she’d find it not only within herself but in her peers. And I’d tell her that she’d find it in the place she’s felt most at home her entire life—Disneyland.
It was 3 years ago when my friend Audrey first had the idea to disneybound as the Disney princesses using African inspired prints. The idea came on the heels of three other days full of black girl magic at Disneyland which were becoming a tradition among my friends.
When Audrey and I met it was because my now best friend Tiffany was organizing a group of us for a photoshoot that had been a dream of hers for a long time. As disneybounders, we use our own clothes to style looks inspired by Disney characters. For this shoot, Tiffany brought us together to disneybound as The Muses from the Disney film, Hercules. The Muses were the first black characters prominently featured in an animated Disney movie, so it was important to Tiffany that all 5 muses in our group be portrayed by black women. But when she went to find local black women in the online Disney community, she was only able to find Audrey and me. That’s not to say that there weren’t others, but there was no community. We were lone creators, isolated within the same arena where we weren’t yet certain we belonged.
To round out the group, I had to enlist my real-life sisters. And the five of us slayed Disneyland so hard that we decided to do it again the following year. This time we celebrated the first black Disney princess, by emulating 5 different outfits that Princess Tiana wears throughout The Princess and the Frog.
By now, the Disney community had grown. And with that growth, more and more black women (men too, but this post is about the ladies) were meeting and building relationships. This growth would make the following year’s project even more special. On the 1 year anniversary of Marvel’s Black Panther, we reached out to as many Disney-loving black women as we could and invited them to join us to disneybound as the mighty Dora Milaje. We called ourselves the “Disney Milaje.” And while only 4 of us made it to Disneyland to meet King T’Challa that day; several women from Los Angeles all the way to New York posted their pictures to be part of the Disney Milaje celebration.
We were officially a community. And we’d finally found a home where we weren’t just the token Tiana or Iridessa in a group of our well-meaning white counterparts, but we ourselves had become a sisterhood. We had proven to ourselves and to each other that we belong in this space as much as anyone else.
This brings us to the present. Last week, fourteen beautiful black women came to Disneyland dressed in African inspired attire. Each of us represented a different iconic Disney princess.
And we literally stopped traffic. Our friend Maddie, who is an amazing photographer and ally came along and captured memories from the day. My heart was so full from the sisterhood and mutual love felt on this day. And I’ve never felt like I’ve belonged anywhere more in my entire life.
What’s the moral of this story? We’re not alone. And I refuse to let the gatekeepers of fandom make us feel otherwise. To my fellow black girl nerds and anyone else who’s ever felt like an outsider, I want you to live loudly and unapologetically. Stand by each other. Create family and build community because there is strength in numbers. We belong wherever we decide we belong. And together, we are a magnificent creative force with great ideas to share, and stories the world needs to hear.