I remember 1998 very vividly. I will never forget my senior year in high school — walking down the halls, opening my locker, and going to class, five days a week. It seems like yesterday seeing the drill team girls dressed in purple and gold skirts walking confidently down the hall while the boys smiled and chatted briefly with the girls before class. There were many days when these girls made negative comments about my slim physique and compared my physical shape to that of a boy’s. Many days, I cried myself to sleep thinking about their mean comments such as ‘Four Eyes’, ‘Olive Oil’, and ‘Skinny’. However, I managed to focus on my studies and write, which helped me overcome the negative words and enjoy my last days as a senior. As a teenager, negative words can be cruel and insensitive. Thankfully, there are young girls today who are confident in their own skin and have learned how to ignore the bullies.
Meet Khoudia Diop, 19, a black model from Senegal who is the new face of beauty in the fashion industry and an inspiration to young black girls who struggle with belonging even with ongoing debates about the measure of darker skin tones as a mark of beauty. Her beauty has been the center of attention for magazines and a topic of cyber bullying due to her skin color. The rising Senegalese model who moved to France as a teenager now calls herself a “Melanin Goddess’ and speaks freely about her negative experiences with bullying. “It’s so dark that it is almost blue,” says Diop when speaking about her skin.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for people living in tropical countries near the equator in countries like Micronesia or Senegal to have darker skin pigmentation says Mark Shriver, a professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. According to Shriver’s research, Melanin actually protects the skin against harmful rays from the sun. Even with this amazing health benefit, people still seek to go lighter. In 2002, a study published by the West African Journal of Medicine highlighted the wide use of bleaching creams and its growing popularity. More than 50% of the population has used lightening products to alter their skin’s pigmentation.
Living outside Senegal, Diop now understands that her dark blue hue challenges the normal aesthetic standard of beauty. It was not until Diop traveled to Paris that she realized that her skin color was unique. Living in France encouraged Diop to find her self – acceptance and taught her how to handle online bullies. She has also refuted using lightening creams which are very common of Senegalese girls of darker pigmentation. Diop loves that her skin is dark and beautiful. “Growing up, I learned very early that I had to confront the bullies and ignore those negative people. Each day, I began to love myself more and more and it has helped me tremendously. That’s when I gave myself the nickname ‘Melanin Goddess‘.”
As a former victim of bullying, Diop is now focusing on helping young black women who feel uncomfortable with their looks and helping to inspire young girls to overcome the negativity. Diop is aware of the lack of diversity in fashion, and is featured in The Colored Girls: Rebirth campaign that challenges society’s view of what is considered beautiful through self-love acceptance and affirmations. With her soaring popularity on social media, Diop now has over 336,000 followers on Instagram and growing. Self-love is an ongoing process and practice,” says Diop who hopes to become a model will encourage more girls to become confident. Thanks to Lupita N’yongo and Diop, more young black girls are celebrating their physical appearance by using popular hashtags like #blackgirlmagic and #melaninpoppin
The message of self-love is helping thousands of women struggling with negativity. “I want to inspire other young women and empower them,” she says. Nevertheless, she is a rare beauty that will continue to be the face of a confident “Melanin Goddess”.