20 April 2011

Out, damn'd spots

Freckles. I got'em. You may have gathered this from the title of the blog, or if that wasn't enough of a clue, from my bio.

For as long as I can remember, I've had them. Lots of them. I took after my mother, who's covered head to toe, and my grandparents on both sides are Irish, so freckles are part of my genetic hardwiring.

I was painfully aware of them for a while as a kid. I was aware that I didn't just have a few adorable freckles scattered artfully across my nose, and that the sheer concentration of melanin spots on my skin was kind of unusual.

I remember seeing an episode of The Brady Bunch where Jan Brady tried to scrub out her freckles with lemon juice. I missed the point of the episode, which I'm pretty sure was that Jan learned to love her looks, and I, too, tried to get rid of my freckles with lemon juice. It didn't work, obviously.

As I moved into adulthood, beyond the painful self-consciousness of childhood and adolescence, I generally forgot about them. They're a part of me. They're my skin. I can't get rid of them any more than a dalmation could get rid of its spots. They're as much a part of me as my eye colour.

The only time I really think about them is when others bring my attention to them. In bars or at parties, men say with a leer that they like the freckles across my collarbone and upper chest because it ‘makes them wonder where the freckles end’.

I've even had men proclaim more than once that they're going to kiss or – and here the mind really boggles – make love to ‘each and every freckle’. Not only is this an unpleasant thought – it's also highly impractical. One week in, they'll only have made it as far as my left elbow. I have a lot of freckles.

I've had the inevitable ‘connect the dots‘ remarks. I've also been told a few times by black men that my freckles make me a ‘sister’, to quote them, because the melanin that creates my freckles is also what pigments their skin. Well that's true I suppose, and I guess as chat-ups go it's more imaginative than ‘do you come here often?’

When I travel abroad, to countries where people generally have darker-toned skin and staring isn't considered as rude as it is in the US or UK, they become even more of a talking point. The freckles darken in the sun and become more obvious. ‘Come here Mrs Freckles! You got too many freckles!’ said one guide in Greece, before seeing my thunderous face and hastily adding ‘But I like them! They're sexy!’ Once when I was eating dinner with a friend in a Spanish restaurant, a busboy stopped, stared, and pointed at my arm, before looking at me quizzically. They blew his mind. When I visited Kenya and Tanzania, children stroked my arm, fascinated to see whether my strange-looking skin felt any different to the touch.

I have to admit, I feel a slight relief when I travel to Ireland or Scotland and I'm surrounded by fellow frecklers in abundance.

I think the strangest moment was when Dove came up with their Campaign for Real Beauty. If I understand correctly, the idea behind this was for women who aren't model-beautiful or whippet-thin to accept their own ‘unconventional beauty’. An admirable concept I guess, until you remember it's all just to sell more soap and deodorant.

One of the ads featured a red-haired, heavily freckled woman. It asked: ‘Ugly spots? Beauty spots?‘. I was pulled up short by this ad. This was a very attractive woman. In an entirely conventional way.

I mean, look at her. Would people seriously call her ugly because of the freckles? Sure, not everyone goes for the same looks, so she won't be everyone's cup of tea, but would anyone seriously contend that she was ugly because of her freckles? She's a pretty woman in most conventional ways – tall, slim, enviable cheekbones, symmetrical features, pretty eyes, shiny hair, young.

Look at her. The freckled freak. Bravely struggling against her handicap.

Dove – like many product manufacturers targetting women – had created an anxiety where there had been none. I knew my freckles weren't the ‘norm’, or they wouldn't get the kind of comments I've mentioned above (although given the amount of times they're a hook for a chat-up line implies to me that they're not really that unattractive). But suddenly I felt like Dove pitied me. Poor me. Trying to be attractive in a world that considers my freckles a mark of ugliness. I have to challenge this by, um, buying face soap. Or something like that.

The Wikipedia article I've linked to also raises an interesting point. Dove is owned by Unilever, who make a product called Fair and Lovely – a cream marketed to dark-skinned women to make their skin whiter. I guess we have a long way to go before we find out what ‘real beauty’ is.

Note: This post was inspired by Slate's blogpost, The cure for your fugly armpits. Worth a read!


  1. A male friend of mine has a thing for freckled girls and even recorded a Dutch cheese ad because it featured a freckled girl so he could watch it over & over again! So embrace your sexy freckles in the knowledge that somewhere in a loft along the Dutch west coast, there is a man who finds them irresistible!

  2. Wow, that's true dedication to the freckly cause! :-D If I think about my freckles at all these days, it's that they are part of my external identity, of what makes me who I am - one reason why I named the blog as I did!

  3. Apparently freckles are the new black. I recently saw photos from a Paris fashion show of models who had been made up to look naturally freckly. It made me laugh and wonder why they had gone to such effort instead of getting some AUTHENTICALLY beautiful freckly girls! Ahhhh, fickle fashion.

  4. Oh, that's just absurd. It's not the first time fashion has decided freckles are 'in'. But fashion itself is absurd, so I shouldn't be surprised!

  5. It never ceases to amaze me, the entitlement men feel to comment on women's appearance.

    And I know radfeminism isn't necessarily your cup of tea, but Twisty is pretty good on the Dove 'Real Women' crapaign.


  6. Ha! That's excellent. Thanks for the link.

  7. I stumbled upon this blog looking for models with freckles after my father made a comment that they were rare. I have freckles myself and I can relate completely to this post. No option but to embrace them!:)

  8. like Gabriella B, I stumbled upon this blog looking for models with freckles... only I was looking because I think they're HOT. :) mmmmm, freckles!