(CNN)She calls herself the ‘Melaniin Goddess,’ but years before Khoudia Diop came to celebrate her strikingly dark skin, the 19-year-old model struggled with bullying over her complexion.
Today, it’s not only her proudest asset, it has made her an overnight social media sensation.
After partnering with The Colored Girl on a recent campaign to promote diversity, images of Diop went viral online. The Colored Girl is a creative agency dedicated to celebrating beauty in women of color.
As a full-time model who first made her mark in Paris before moving to New York, Diop’s sudden online fame — she went from 300 to 350,000 followers on Instagram in a matter of days — is perhaps a hopeful sign for an industry often criticized for its lack of diversity.
Only around a quarter of the women that strut the catwalks of the industry’s largest events — including New York Fashion Week — are models of color, according to a diversity report by The Fashion Spot.
Diop speaks to CNN Style about body shame and the racism she experienced as a child, and discusses how these issues have helped shaped her as a role model.
CNN: Tell us about your childhood and growing up in Senegal. How does it inspire you today?
Khoudia Diop: Even though my complexion is quite common in Senegal and many parts of Africa, I was teased for my dark skin.
Being teased and losing my self value eventually ended up inspiring me to be a better version of myself.
I learned to find things to love about myself, and to celebrate them.
CNN: How did you overcome this childhood bullying?
KD: At first I tried confronting them, but soon I learned to tune out the negativity, which made me more confident and taught me to love myself.
Having support from family, friends — and now fans — definitely helps to affirm that I am worthy, loved and beautiful. I hope everyone can see that in themselves and feel this way.
CNN: Tell us about your first encounter with your agency The Colored Girl. Why did you choose them and what makes them different to other agencies?
KD: The co-founders, Victory and Tori, first contacted me via social media and asked me to participate in their new campaign “Rebirth.”
I was familiar with their previous work, and their entire portfolio is dedicated to celebrating diversity.
We share a joint goal: to inspire, empower, and uplift women of color worldwide, and I was excited when they asked me to be a part of something so positive.
We began working very closely after the release of the campaign, and now, they manage me.
I love working with them, what they represent, and being a part of their cause — it made sense and felt right.
CNN: Do you still face bullies in the fashion industry today?
KD: There are still people who make comments occasionally, but they’re in the minority.
Most of the responses I get — from all types of people, not just women, and not just women of color — has been hugely positive.
CNN: So many women, whatever their color or shape, struggle to feel comfortable in their own skin. What philosophy fuels your self confidence and beauty ideals?
KD: Diversity is what makes life interesting.
All women should feel confident in the skin they’re in — everyone is beautiful in their own unique way, and the key is to realize that and celebrate it.
CNN: Do you feel the fashion industry currently lacks diversity? Why?
KD: It’s come a long way, but has a much longer way to go.
The majority of the industry has not fully embraced the idea of diversity, and majority of the fashion world is run by people who adhere to certain restrictive beauty ideals.
But the reality is, most of the world does not look a certain way.
So more women of color need to be seen as beautiful, and chosen, booked, cast and shown in fashion shows.
CNN: How has social media helped you spread a message of acceptance?
KD: Social media is such a powerful tool because it puts power in our hands.
We are able to show ourselves to the world and set our own beauty standards.
As more people use platforms such as Instagram to share their unique beauty, they help change the way we perceive beauty.
We get to see more diversity and that’s how it should be — I love that.
CNN: Can you describe what beauty means to you?
KD: Beauty is not what’s outside, it’s who you are. What’s inside is your true essence, and beauty comes from within. It’s pure energy.
This interview has been edited for clarity.