From ‘Middlesex’ a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jeffrey Eugenides published in 2002:
Part of my interest was scientific, zoological. I’d never seen a creature with so many freckles before. A Big Bang had occurred, originating at the bridge of her nose, and the force of this explosion had sent galaxies of freckles hurtling and drifting to every end of her curved, warm-blooded universe. There were clusters of freckles on her forearms and wrists, an entire Milky Way spreading across her forehead, even a few sputtering quasars flung into the wormholes of her ears.
I am, in my 43rd year, still peppered with freckles. They possess the half-life of caesium 137, which I imagine will render me free of them some time in my 60s. That is assuming I embrace the nocturnal life of a vampire until then, for even short exposure to the summer sun ressurects great constellations of stubbornly resilient melanin clusters.
As a wee lad, I seldom worried about my appearance, as little boys are wont not to do. It wasn’t long, however, before I started seeing girls as something other than irritating, meddlesome creatures, and it was then I became conscious of the sea of muddy brown spots that covered my arms and face. All through puberty, the nascent geek in me daydreamed of curing freckle-afflicted folks the world over through yet undiscovered, fiendishly complicated scientific means.
I became especially shy in the presence of girls, often imagining mocking laughter and the whispered taunts of freckle bigots when my back was turned. Teenage hypocrisy didn’t spare me though – I was boorishly vocal about my lack of attraction to freckly chicks. No doubt there was justice in me becoming the (perceived) victim of my own prejudices.
Upon graduation from high school in Australia, as is the case in many places, the alcoholic rite of passage must be observed. We call it ‘schoolies week’. In order to fully particpate in the ritual, one must be admitted to establishments that sell alcohol, then successfully procure it. Consumption is the easiest part of the process. To convince the purveyors of intoxicating beverages that I was of the legally required age, I had to look roughly adult enough, and back that up with an authentically crafted fake-id. I possessed the latter, but I appeared no older than a particularly seasoned 14. My freckles damned me to sobriety and celibacy. There can be nothing worse when you are 17 years old and horny enough to shag a knotty fence post. My inability to resemble anything but a pubescent nerd relegated me to the status of ‘hanger-on’, surely the worst social station for a young bloke to occupy.
These days I could care less. I’m more like I was as a 7 year old, comfortable in my own speckled skin and largely indifferent to what my peers might think, at least when it comes to my uneven distribution of melanin. If anything, my freckles are a positive feature. They lend me a youthful, boyish appearance that I am more inclined to cultivate than cover over.
There are cultures that view freckles as a cosmetic scourge. The upwardly mobile certainly don’t want any skin-deep links to the sun-baked peasantry. In China, there is a large market for a wide variety of skin creams and other noxious, potentially toxic remedies that promise to fade or completely remove them. Even the ancient practice of Qigong offers techniques for elimination of any unwanted pigmentation.
The Japanese word ‘bihaku‘ translates to ‘beautiful white’ and is the fashion for white skin that has existed throughout the archipelago for many centuries. Again, the most popular methods for achieving a fair and even complexion entail the application of creams that either lighten the skin, inhibit the production of melanin, or simple mask freckles and other blemishes. Younger Japanese women have been moving away from this predilection for whitened skin. An extreme example was the ‘Ganguro‘ style, first appearing in the 1990s and peaking around the early 2000s, characterised by bleached blonde or grey-streaked hair, and a deep tan. The Ganguro fashion was viewed as a rejection of the traditional contraints imposed by Japanese society, and an open defiance of school dress codes and regulations.
Back in the West, things are looking up for we freckly people, as the fashion world has decided we are back in um, er, fashion. Unblemished skin is boring they say. Freckly is sexy, interesting and cool. At least until someone writing for Vogue magazine decides we aren’t.
For now, we enjoy another spotty moment in the sun, courtesy of the mainstream media. Regardless of what the the arbiters of beauty say, freckles are in our genes, they are an integral part of our code, and for now, that cannot be overwritten. Nor should it be. I will celebrate what I my ancestors passed to me.