This was all until 2012, when Mihlali who is Gugulethu in Cape Town, was given one compliment by a complete stranger that helped changed her entire life.

This is her story.

“Growing up with my dark complexion made me think that being dark skinned meant you’re not enough which made me really unsatisfied with myself, especially my skin.

From being teased at a young age and called names such as ‘blacky’ or ‘charcoal’ at an older age – I had really low self-esteem.

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I remember it was back in 2012 and I was asked to speak on behalf of my grade at the end of term assembly.

As I spoke at the podium, a learner and her group of friends from a higher grade than me, shouted,

“Awukwazi ubayi chocolate uthethe nge accent yethu the Vanillas.”

Which simply meant, “You cannot be brown/dark skinned and speak with the accent that we have, this is our accent – the vanillas”

By vanillas they were referring to people with lighter complexions or a term coined ‘yellow bones’ as we know them today.

After making those nasty remarks the group of girls laughed and so did the entire school, even though they were eventually asked to leave the assembly I could not continue with my speech. I was torn and so embarrassed. To make matters worse, my own friends started joking about the incident.

I was given names such as nomnyamazana (young girl with black skin) and in class they would provoke me by saying silly things such as, “You can't be laughing in class but you're charcoal.”

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It became an everyday thing for me to get teased or poked fun at because of my skin tone, which made me wish and pray for a different skin color.

It got to a point where I told myself,

“If I ever have money one day, I'd bleach my skin”

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I started taking everything to heart, like if someone said, “That lip color is not for your dark skin, maybe a lighter person would look good in it”.

Such comments would make me break down internally because I started overthinking and turning everything into a negative but being the person that I am I would never let it show.

People know me for my bold personality, so I would laugh it off and give back an attitude – knowing that deep down I had been wounded.

The day I came out of my shell, I remember bumping into a lady at V&A Waterfront, and she stopped me and asked,

“You have a gorgeous skin, beautiful big hair, and an amazing body... do you model?”

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It was after that day did I realise that, one compliment from a stranger can really be life changing. Shortly after that I started getting calls and messages, I couldn’t believe that people wanted me to model for them with the very same skin I was once teased for having.

In some instances I get messages from young girls some that are my age, thanking me for inspiring them into being comfortable in their own skin. 

I now stand tall, head held high and always ready to feed as well as speak life to young girls dealing with self-acceptance issues. 

What would my advice be to young girls like myself that are still struggling to love themselves because they’re constantly being teased for their melanated complexions?

Learn to love yourself, regardless of the negative messages you get from people about yourself.

When you start loving yourself, no word from anyone will shake you. They may give you pain by teasing you and dragging you, but remember; you are dripping melanin, honey!

Today, I can confidently say, my pain turned into a purpose.”

Do you have an inspiring story that you would like to share with us? Simply drop us an e-mail at MyStory@Drum.co.za