Freckled people are an unrecognized minority, a group of which I am, for better or worse, a member.
As a child, learning about the world around me and comparing myself to others, trying to decipher how I stacked up, the message that I received was that freckles were different, and different was bad. Freckles are not represented in the media, and doesn’t the media teach us how we’re supposed to look, act, dress, think, and feel? There are very few freckled film and television actors. The ones who do have them are in the closet — they cover them up with makeup (I’m looking at you, Lindsay Lohan and Julianne Moore, and yes I realize that’s probably the only thing you two have in common).
Until very recently, there were no models with freckles. When I was younger, not once did I open the pages of a J. Crew catalog or a Sassy magazine to see a freckled girl staring back at me. I had no visually relatable role models, no one similarly speckled to look up to. Of course I decided to identify with unicorns; creatures deemed “nearly extinct and rarely seen.” These days, a few freckles exist in fashion, usually flaunted by avant-garde designers who like to do out-of-the-box things like book a girl with skin as black as night and photograph her next to an albino. Some freckled models have leaked into that “circus freak chic” clan, which, honestly, doesn’t translate into anything helpful for an everyday freckled chick like me.
Families are always helpful when it comes to abnormalities. My brother liked to chase me around the house with a Sharpie threatening to play connect-the-dots on my face. My dad nicknamed me “Spot” and often rubbed the largest freckle on the tip of my nose “for luck.”
You may not think that having freckles is a big deal. If you think that, it’s because you don’t have them. And please do not be one of those people who says, “Yes I do too have freckles!” and point out, like, ten on the bridge of your nose, ones that look like you were paid a visit by the Cute Fairy one night who blessed you with a teeny pepper shaker’s worth of angel kisses. Don’t give me that.
Do you remember that time you had clusters of zits break out on your face, all in different areas, and you felt so self-conscious that you didn’t want to leave the house? And when you spoke to people, you watched where their eyes went, and you thought, “Oh, they’re looking at the zits on my cheek. Now up to the forehead. And yep, there they go to my chin. God, I’m hideous.”
That’s how I constantly felt when I was younger. I have hundreds of freckles, and it seemed to me like all anyone did was stare at them. At this stage in my life, I often forget that I have them, because, well, life happens, and there are more important things to focus on. But then someone will tell me that I have chocolate in the corner of my mouth (I don’t; it’s a freckle), and I’ll spend a couple of minutes remembering that I look different than everyone else. Don’t bother heading towards me with a wet napkin to rub anything off of my face; it’s all here to stay.
Once I went to get a manicure and the manicurist’s eyes popped out of her head when she saw me. Freckled people don’t exist in all countries, and clearly I was her first. She pulled my sleeves up and examined both sides of my arms, turning them over in her hands, then petting me like a kitten. “What happened to you?” she asked in a thick accent. “Such a shame. Were you burned?” I considered making up a story about a tragic booze cruise that went up in flames, or a fraternity prank gone horribly wrong involving paint balls and gasoline, and trust me, my performance would have been Oscar-worthy, tears free of charge. But I spared her further confusion and just said slowly, “Freh-Kuls. I’m o-kay.” She didn’t look convinced.
Kids ask me all the time what’s wrong with my face. Children lack social awareness, which makes them simultaneously horrible and awesome. Just when I want to turn around in my airplane seat and rip a kid’s feet off for kicking the back of my chair, he asks his mom in a loud voice why that old man is smelly. Or if that big lady is pregnant. I like to tell kids who ask about my freckles that I smoked one cigarette and was cursed from then on with sprouting spots, or that I lied to my parents, or whatever rotten thing they look likely to do. I hope that they’ll avoid whatever I tell them to, in fear of getting freckles. And sometimes I like to open my eyes really wide, act frightened, and say, “No, what’s wrong with your face?” and send them running to a mirror.
My mother assured me that my freckles would fade as I aged. She said that hers did, and I banked a lot of faith and hope in that promise, because she doesn’t have freckles anymore. I now realize that she was either just lying, or was one of those “I do too have freckles!” people, because I can’t find any evidence of freckles in her childhood photos. I have to remind myself that this is the same woman who told me that my two hamsters “ate each other overnight” when I came down one morning to find an empty cage. I spent the next several years trying to imagine how two animals could simultaneously ingest each other, leaving not even a tuft of fur as evidence of such a violent, carnivorous event. She finally overheard me telling someone, like an idiot, that my hamsters had magically swallowed each other, and she admitted that they had kept her awake every night running in their wheel (hamsters are nocturnal, keep that in mind when pet shopping), and she had simply set them free in our backyard. What! That lie had kept me occupied for years.
Thanks, Mom. Here I am, at the age of thirty four, still the owner of many freckles, and zero hamsters.