This model was bullied for her dark skin. Her story is all too familiar.

I can't take my eyes off Khoudia Diop's beautiful skin.

Even in pictures, it's easy to get lost in it. Deep and rich, like a thousand night skies. She refers to herself on Instagram as the "melanin goddess," which would normally be boastful and trite, if it weren't so clearly true.

But not everyone sees her beauty, or her worth. Diop was called names and bullied for her skin color as a kid.

“Growing up, I faced it by confronting the bullies," she told The Daily Mail U.K. "As I grew, I learned to love myself more every day, and not pay attention to the negative people.”

Today, the 19-year-old is leaning into her unique, stunning complexion by working as a model. Her 303,000 Instagram followers can't get enough of her striking look.

"If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change," she said.

Though Diop wrote her own happy ending, bullying around colorism is all too common and rooted in historic and systemic issues.

Colorism is the false and outdated notion that the closer people are in complexion to the white or fair-skinned ideal, the better. Complexions that are closer to white are seen as prettier, smarter, more worthy of time, and more worthy of attention. But too often this leads to bullying and discrimination for people of color with darker complexions, from within and outside the same racial or ethnic group.

This issue is complex and has deep historical roots.

Slaves with lighter skin were often assigned to work in the house, while slaves with darker complexions were sent to the fields. This practice continued for decades, turning into discriminatory exercises like the paper bag test. That's where a brown paper bag was used as a kind of "skin-tone barometer" for privileges, like access to certain churches or black Greek life at colleges and universities. Those lighter than the bag were welcomed in. Darker than the bag? Not so much.

Photo by iStock.

But as stories like Diop's illustrate, colorism is not just a thing of the past, and it affects people of color of all complexions. Those with lighter skin may find others challenging their authenticity and their "black experience." Men and women with darker skin or coarser hair may not see themselves represented in the media, specifically as love interests or idealized depictions of beauty.

And colorism is a difficult thing to combat because this type of prejudice and internalized racism begins when we're young.

In 2010, Margaret Beale Spencer, a leading researcher in the field of child development from the University of Chicago, was recruited by CNN to recreate the famed "baby doll test" from the 1940s.  In the original, black and white children were asked questions about whether they favored a white doll or a white doll painted brown. The results showed both white and black children had a bias toward the white or lighter skin doll.

When Spencer conducted a version of the test more than 60 years later, though, she found that the results had changed, but not by much. White and black children still have white bias, though black kids have far less than their white peers.

Photo by iStock.

"All kids on the one hand are exposed to the stereotypes," Spencer told CNN. "What's really significant here is that white children are learning or maintaining those stereotypes much more strongly than the African-American children. Therefore, the white youngsters are even more stereotypic in their responses concerning attitudes, beliefs and attitudes and preferences than the African-American children."

It's a grim reminder that historical, external, and media-driven forces behind colorism are having an impact on all of us, no matter our race or ethnicity.

That's why people like Khoudia Diop are so important.

Watching Diop, and stars like Viola Davis and Leslie Jones, find success in their respective industries is a strong indictment against the narratives that women with dark skin are undesirable or unworthy of admiration or respect. But it doesn't mean their journeys are easy or smooth. All of these strong women experience bigotry and ignorant comments, not just from the dregs of the internet, but from critics who should know better too.

Jones experienced intense online harassment this summer when trolls lobbed insults and images of gorillas her way. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Colorism is real. We live it every day. And speaking out and talking about it, like Khoudia Diop, is the first step to putting an end to it.

Whether or not you're a famous face, it's important to speak out against colorism.

Check your friends and family when they make ignorant and prejudiced comments. Support brands, magazines, and movies that showcase people of color with darker complexions. Signal boost voices when those who've been discriminated against are brave enough to tell their stories. Buy dolls and picture books with protagonists of color for the children in your life.

There's a lot we can do to weaken the hold colorism has on our society so more folks like Diop can rise to the top of their fields.  And it starts with all of us.

Photo by iStock.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."