Freckles Are Not Flaws
I love my freckles.
I didn’t always.
I grew up in the nineties; before individuality became mainstream, before diversity was even a word spoken aloud in fashion and beauty campaigns, when all you saw were pale-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls on the pages of those glossy magazines. I grew up a curly-haired freckled face Asian kid — the only one for miles around. My mother didn’t understand my hair. She used to blow-dry it straight. She didn’t understand my freckles either. She bought me sunscreen. I can remember googling: “Do Asian people have freckles?” It wasn’t until college that I even saw another Asian person with freckles or curly hair.
In public, people would stop me and ask if I was a person of mixed ethnic background.
But the most frequent questions
and the longest stares
came from other Asian people.
You see — western culture and eastern culture have two different ideals of beauty. In eastern culture, beauty comes in the flavor of big eyes, a tiny heart-shaped face, long dark hair, and most importantly pale, unblemished skin. That means without any sign of acne, any sign of scars, and yes — any freckles. Why? The eastern beauty ideal is deeply rooted in a class system. Traditionally, people who have fair, unmarked skin were generally those from an aristocratic class. They had money and no need to work in the fields. Meanwhile their blue-collar counterparts toiled away in the sun; leaving them with tanned skin and dark spots.
But even in western culture, freckles and beauty marks have not been openly embraced. In 1987, Cindy Crawford posed for the January cover of British Vogue. When the issue hit newsstands, one major thing was missing: her signature mole. The most iconic part of this supermodel’s face had been removed in retouching because it didn’t fit into this neat box of what society had deemed “beautiful”. You might argue that this cover was a product of its time. However, in 2016 — almost three decades later, here was Gigi Hadid facing the same treatment. Vogue China not only photoshopped Gigi to be paler, they also removed all of her moles.
I started my career in fashion and eventually made my way to beauty. I’ve worked behind a camera, I’ve worked in front of it.
For years makeup artists covered my freckles up
and retouchers removed them altogether.
It still happens sometimes. But now freckles are a trend. People are drawing fake freckles on their faces with makeup. They’re making freckle stencils. They’re getting freckle tattoos. As brands begin to embrace individuality, we’ve begun to see more and more people of color on runways, on magazine covers, in beauty campaigns — playing in spaces once reserved for their pale-skinned counterparts. The tide is turning, but not fast enough. And it hasn’t turned yet on my home continent.
This is model Jing Wen. She was featured in Zara’s latest campaign. When her image was posted to Weibo (China’s equivalent to Twitter), the internet broke. The response was exceedingly negative. Chinese people were claiming Zara’s intention was to “defame” them; that by not retouching Jing Wen’s freckles, they were “uglifying” the model.
"I'm sorry, we Asian women don't have freckles," replied one commenter, EvelynYoung_23. "Even if we do, it's a small number of people ... You must have tried very hard to find such a model."
But we do, EvelynYoung_23.
I do. Lucy Liu does. Yoko Ono does.
And so does Jing Wen.
We may be in the minority, but we exist and the refusal of acknowledgment from one does not render invisible the existence of all. I’m glad Zara chose not to retouch Jing Wen. I never saw freckles on an Asian face growing up, but I wish I had. And I’m not alone.
"I feel it’s not the brand discriminating against Asian women, but people discriminating against people with freckles,” another user had commented.
Decades ago, to see an Asian at all in this type of campaign would have been unheard of. To see an Asian with freckles — revolutionary. This was never a question of how Zara viewed Asian women. This was a question of how Asian women viewed themselves.
So I beseech you, my fellow Asian women — see yourselves as beautiful for all that you are. Love the things that make you different. Love the freckles on your face. Love your monolids. Love your skin; no matter it be pale or tan. Love that gap in your front teeth. Love your round face or your sharp angles. Love those extra pounds on you or your naturally thin frame. Remember that the standards you’re trying to adhere to were created in classism. Overthrow it. Practice lawlessness. Free yourselves. Love yourselves and stand for yourselves.