Khoudia Diop boasts over 250,000 followers on Instagram. And as a model, her success undoubtedly lies in her astonishing looks. Yet it was these same looks which have caused Diop to be bullied for much of her life. Now, having overcome adversity, she is empowering other women to embrace their individuality.
Diop was born in Senegal, West Africa. But at the age of 15, she moved to France where she found that she was different from the other teenagers. And unfortunately, the young girl became a target for bullies, with many cruel of their comments aimed at her beautiful dark skin.
“I was teased a lot growing up, because of my skin tone. By other kids, and now even online sometimes, people will make comments,” Diop told the Daily Mail. “Growing up, I faced it by confronting the bullies. As I grew, I learned to love myself more every day, and not pay attention to the negative people, which helped a lot.”
Moreover it seemed that with every cruel comment she received, Diop only became stronger. She revealed how some of the hurtful names thrown at her included the racist terms “darky” and “daughter of the night.” And at first, Diop would feel like her only option was to confront her bullies. Now, however, she prefers to just ignore them completely.
“Bullies used to come with all kind of names thinking I’ll feel bad about my color,” she wrote on Instagram. “[But] guess what? I loved them all and showed them how much I didn’t care about what they think.”
And so a young Diop decided to take control of her own identity. Nicknaming herself “Melaniin Goddess,” she began posting empowered selfies on Instagram. Her alias was inspired by the pigment which determines our skin, hair and eye color. People who have more melanin have a darker skin tone.
In 2014, Diop was scouted as a model, and now hopes to encourage more diversity within the beauty and fashion industries. Her big break came when she appeared in The Colored Girl Project, which celebrated the diversity of black beauty. “I started the ‘The Colored Girl’ Project because I wanted to show the different aspects of beauty as it pertains to Black women,” TCG founder Tori Elizabeth said.
“I wanted to highlight and celebrate our unique beauty: our eyes, our lips, our cheekbones. I wanted women from different social and cultural backgrounds,” Elizabeth added. “I wanted women with angular eyes, women with freckles and fair skin, and women with really rich, ebony skin. It’s so important to be proud of who we are and showcase the beauty of blackness.”
The campaign propelled Diop to fame. However, the beauty now wants to use her celebrity to empower other girls of color. “One of my goals is to make all my dark skinned sisters out there laugh at those [men and women] with their ‘beauty standards,’” she wrote on Facebook. “They’re nobody, noooobody to tell you how you should look.”
Diop, who now lives in New York, added: “Because of my dark, melanin-rich complexion and because I want to inspire young girls and let them know that we are all goddesses inside and out. The message I have for my sisters is that how you look doesn’t matter as long as you feel beautiful inside.”
However, for all her confident beauty, Diop still receives negative comments. In fact, one media user recently commented: “If I [had] this color I might triple bleach my soul because my reflection in the mirror may scare me.” However, Diop had the perfect sassy response.
“You got it wrong sis,” she began. “Trust me, because waking up and seeing my chocolate ass in the mirror is the first thing I do everyday and I can tell you how priceless it is to me and how bad I want to marry myself.”
“Every time I see my smile in the mirror, it doesn’t scare me at all because it is who I am and I love it,” Diop wrote. “Educate yourself there’s way more than a light or dark skin tone to look or feel beautiful. Let your inner beauty shine through,” she finished.
Diop’s stance is an important one, too, as skin bleaching is popular with women all over the world. The practice is usually done using creams, which can be used to even out blemishes and marks, or used all over the body to achieve a lighter skin tone. The cosmetic treatment works by breaking down melanin in the skin.
However, skin bleaching is not completely risk-free. In fact, procedures are often expensive, time-consuming and are not even guaranteed to work. Moreover, major side effects can include scarring and thinning of the skin, or even kidney, liver or nerve damage.
“There is a wrong belief that the light-complexioned ladies are more beautiful and acceptable to men,” explained Dr Olanrewaju Falodun, a consultant dermatologist at the National Hospital in Abuja, Nigeria. “Over time ladies who are dark-complexioned, who have internalized this wrong perception, tend to lighten their skin to improve their sense of self-worth. The other reasons are ignorance and peer pressure.”
Part of the problem, then, is representation. And undoubtedly all too often beauty and fashion campaigns focus on European standards of beauty rather than celebrating diversity. However, there are many people, just like Diop, trying to challenge this.
In May 2016, Instagram sought to address the problem with their #RunwayForAll campaign. This photographic series focused on a number of individuals who challenge standard beauty conventions. And so for a whole week, unusual beauties were celebrated proudly for all of Instagram’s 162 million followers to see.
Among those to be featured in the campaign was Haitian model and amputee Mama Cax. She explained how she never thought she’d become a model because “there were very few dark models on magazine covers” when she was growing up. “#RunwayForAll means any teenager feels represented when they open a magazine or watch a fashion show,” Cax added.
And so inspirational young people like Cax and Diop are helping to change the face of fashion – literally. For Diop, “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to what she can achieve. “I want to inspire other young women of color and empower them,” she said. “I want them to know that they can do and be anything they dream of.”