Freckles in vogue? Never

The fashion world is enjoying a flirtation with freckles. Esther Walker just can't understand the attraction

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:07

The thermometer of all things stylish, Vogue magazine has decided this month that freckles are a good thing. Again. This type of piece is rolled out about once every eight years when someone writes something in a magazine about how "cool" freckles are – either shortly before, or after, a piece about how cool red hair is.

It's particularly relevant to me, seeing as I am about as freckled as you can get: they are all over my face, arms, back and legs – in fact, anywhere that has seen the sun for more than five minutes.

"Freckles are sexy," Alex Bilmes writes in September's Vogue. "Freckles should be fetishised, embraced, touched, kissed. Freckles, more than anything, are a provocation: if I can see that some of you is freckled, I can't help wondering about the rest. If your face is freckled, what does your back look like, your stomach, your thighs...?"

Yes, Alex, but I don't really want you to wonder what the rest of me looks like. It's not actually much fun being a walking invitation for people to ask questions such as: "Have you got freckles all over your boobs?" It really is astonishing how many people – of both sexes – think it's ok to ask me what exactly the skin on my bottom looks like. I kid you not.

It is all very well saying freckles are, literally, in vogue, but for those of us stuck with them – either a sprinkling across the nose or, like the actress Lindsay Lohan, absolutely everywhere – it'll take a lot more than a magazine to make we freckled folk feel cutting edge.

I've been stared at (not usually admiringly) all my life. Comments range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but one of the most memorable was on a bus when a boy asked his father: "What is wrong with that lady? Why is she covered in spots?"

If you grow up freckled in England, you get a bashing. It's that simple.

Freckles are caused by uneven clusters of melanin in the skin (which is what turns brown when it comes into contact with ultraviolet rays from the sun). People without freckles have an even distribution of melanin so the skin goes brown evenly in the sunshine. You aren't born with freckles, you acquire them as you spend more time in the sun; some freckles fade when out of the sunshine, and others are permanent.

When Sarah Ferguson appeared in a photo shoot for a glossy magazine in the Nineties everyone raved about her "new look". The look was achieved by a strong flash and overexposed, black and white film. Her freckles had been entirely bleached out. Fergie, always the brightly coloured, splashy, uncouth one next to the demure, even-skinned Diana, was suddenly acceptable – because she was no longer mottled.

There is a literary tradition of casting the one with freckles as the loser, the ugly one or the baddie. In A Passage To India by E M Forster, the character Adela Quested is described as being unattractive by the hero, Dr Aziz, because she is so "angular" and "freckled"; in creating Caliban, the deformed creature in The Tempest, Shakespeare chose to make him a "freckled whelp"; in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, the spooky Peter Quint has red hair and freckles.

It's not especially outrageous that people should dislike freckles and think they are strange, alien or ugly. When I meet someone who has as many as me, even I think they look weird.

And I am suspicious of men who say they specifically like freckles. Freckled girls have been brought up to consider their spots so negatively that we can just about believe that people might learn to like them or forgive us for them, but actually like them for what they are? That's just perverted.

Being freckled in England is nothing compared with venturing abroad with spotted skin. The sight of me has made African children scream and a witch doctor once enquired if I was cursed (if so, he knew an excellent exorcising ritual). My grandmother once steered me into a chemist and pointed out a bleaching cream that would lighten my freckles. My own grandmother!

As you get older, you learn to live with the physical things about you that you wish were different. Julianne Moore, the freckled Hollywood actress, had the nickname Freckleface Strawberry as a child and wrote a children's book, using the moniker as the title, about a little girl trying to get rid of her freckles. She sums up the relationship most freckled people have with their skin. "I still don't like them, but I have other things to worry about. I care about it less."

So, thanks for the thought, Alex – but you're not fooling anyone.

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