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Bodies News

Senegalese Model Khoudia Diop Opens Up About the Pressure to Lighten Her Skin

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Model Khoudia Diop is opening up about the pressure that exists for many women in Senegal to lighten their skin.

In a video for Real Women, Real Stories, the model, 20, who now lives in New York City, spoke out about skin bleaching, a common practice in her native country.

“It’s a very big problem,” explained Diop, who says she grew up with “a lot” of her family members using skin bleaching products. “Around 12, 13 my own cousin started asking me why I don’t want to use those products.”

Known as “Melaniin Goddess” on Instagram — she is also a face of Make Up For Ever’s #BlendInStandOut campaign and The Colored Girl campaigns — Diop said skin bleaching products are advertised “everywhere” in Senegal and estimates 7 of 10 women use the products. (The video caption explained that even products claiming to be ‘natural’ can include “dangerous ingredients” like mercury, hydroquinone or  sodium hydroxide, which “can cause cancer and are potentially disfiguring.”)

“[They are] very, very cheap creams, some of them cost less than a dollar. That’s how accessible they make them for women in my country,” said Diop.

She elaborated on the extreme measures women will go through to lighten their skin. “Even if they can’t get those products they will use some medications for eczema. They won’t use it the proper way. They will use it for skin bleaching. “They will put shampoo and other products and cook it together and rub it on their skin. They would put on pullovers and stay under the sun and that just made their skin peel off and it’s just horrible.”

How did she avoid the pressure?

“My sister wouldn’t let me use it. She would definitely fight with me,” she said. “I felt like, ‘Why would I change my skin?’ I didn’t have to listen to nobody or look like how anybody wants me to look. I just wanted to be myself.”

Diop previously spoke to PEOPLE about being teased for her dark skin tone when she moved to New York to model at age 17.

“At first I confronted the bullies, but eventually I learned to stay positive, tune out the negativity and love myself more each day,” she said.