In the first of a new series of photo stories by Christy Jennifer, we present to you an interview with Merlin Lilly, a stylist and designer that lives and works in Chennai who talks about her experiences with colourism.

Christy: What was it like growing up in your home?

Merlin: Growing up, I was the only dark skinned child among my 5 siblings. I take after my dad. I remember my close family calling me ‘Karidhana’ – it means ‘blacky’. Growing up, my parents would discouraged me from wearing particular colours, especially yellow and blue. They were a big NO. My parents thought that those colours made me almost invisible because of my complexion.

I’d also hear people crack jokes like, “don’t go out in the dark, you can’t be spotted”. During those times, I would feel conflicted about my identity, but deep inside I was always comfortable with my skin. When I got to college, I didn’t like being photographed alone or with friends because I was very conscious of being the odd looking one in the picture. I just didn’t want to be noticed for my complexion, especially a complexion that I had been led to believe was unpleasant.

Christy: Did your experiences change as you stepped out into the world?

Merlin: After college, I began to work and I started noticing a lot of confident men and women. They were so comfortable in their skin. They were happy to be photographed and they boldly wore blue and yellow. Watching them, I felt empowered. Confidence is infectious, it can start to grow on you if you allow it to.


Merlin Lilly Standing Near Earthen Pots
Merlin Lilly on the street
Merlin Lilly close-up
Merlin Lilly in the sunlight
Merlin Lilly sitting on the street
Merlin Lilly walking in a crowd
Merlin Lilly twirling around
Merlin Lilly For Dark Is Beautiful
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Christy: So true! How does this empowering confidence translate into your life and work?

Merlin: I love designing clothes, most of the clothes I wear are designed and stitched by me. My dream is to become a full-fledged designer and stylist.

I am also a make-up artist. Personally, I don’t strive to look fairer with my make-up. I only go for the natural look. Some of my clients say; “please make me look fair on my wedding day”, but I always coax them to stay natural.

I am very comfortable in front of the camera and I love being photographed. I applaud the Dark is Beautiful campaign. They are boosting the confidence of many people.

Christy: What would you say to someone in who is going through what you have been through?

Merlin: My advice to anyone who has been through situations like mine is – just go out and be free to be yourself. Wear that yellow and blue that are forbidden!


Christy is a producer for a tv channel. Her first love is street photography and she strives to be a story teller through her images. She is also a dark is beautiful volunteer who is proud to say she has very dark skin.