Khoudia Diop was teased for her dark skin tone when she left her native Senegal and moved to New York City.
“At first I confronted the bullies, but eventually I learned to stay positive, tune out the negativity and love myself more each day,” the model, 19, tells PEOPLE. “This helped tremendously.”
Diop — who is featured in The “C” Girl, Inc.‘s The Colored Girl: Rebirth campaign — is now turning the tables on her bullies by embracing what makes her unique, and has given herself the nickname “Melanin Goddess.”
“[I gave myself the nickname] 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,” she says. “The message I have for my sisters is that how you look doesn’t matter as long as you feel beautiful inside.”
At 17, Diop decided to pursue modeling.
“I wanted to express myself using visuals and also celebrate the beauty of black women, travel and have amazing opportunities,” she says. “I also wanted to be a living example of inspiration for other women and girls. Growing up, I hadn’t really had that much inspiration in media and modeling until recently with women like Lupita Nyong’o.”
Diop — who now has 336,000 followers on her Instagram account — does admit that her journey to self-acceptance is still ongoing.
“Self-love is an ongoing process and practice,” she says. “I’ve had to sit with myself, learn myself, find the things I like about myself, and celebrate them. This is how I’ve recovered from the aggressive negativity sent my way.”
She hopes her breakthrough in the modeling world can inspire other people who may be ostracized or teased for their appearance.
“Learn yourself and love yourself,” Diop says to anyone who may be struggling. “Celebrate yourself… and stay positive!”