“Look at these,” my niece says, gesturing to a faint smattering of freckles across her nose. “I’m not cute anymore.”
In this particular four-year-old’s lexicon, “not cute” is the most damning insult imaginable. This is a girl who shoots plastic arrows while dressed as Princess Tiana or Belle, who declares the multicolored manicures she gives me “precious” as the polish drips onto my fingers, and who refused to wear a new pair of pyjamas because they were “not cute, not beautiful, and not lovely.”
“Not cute” is not good.
But they are cute. The kind of cute that conjures up images of Strawberry Shortcake and ridiculous phrases like “angel kisses.” But she can’t see that, and I can’t blame her. I was exactly the same.
My childhood can be divided into two epochs: Before Freckles and After Freckles. Before, I was a toddler with white hair, unblemished skin, and a tiny little ponytail tied with a ribbon. After, I was an awkward, gangly child with arms and a face that were sprayed with freckles like buckshot. I still had my blonde hair, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw Harriet from Small Wonder. I longed to be a grown-up so I could cover those dots up with foundation.
My self-loathing hits its peak in the third grade. Mrs. Williamson announced that we would be reading Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice, and I perked up. From the title, I assumed this was a how-to guide for removing freckles with a clever potion.
When it turned out to be about a boy who was deluded enough to actually want freckles -- which he drew on with a marker -- I didn’t take a reflective moment, consider my unique physical features, and sing a ditty about accepting myself for who I was. I threw down the book in disgust and considered writing an angry letter to Blume for her bait-and-switch.
My freckles wouldn’t come off with a wet washcloth, though God knows I’d certainly scrubbed half of my face raw. Where was the book for me and my fellow Cheeto faces?
There was no book. I went through adolescence and my teens scowling at my freckles, bemoaning the way they interfered with my ability to do my makeup like Niki Taylor or have a flawless tan. All those years were wasted being fixated on what I couldn’t get rid of.
I never had any “Eureka!” moment on my path to self-acceptance. I just grew up.
My freckles have mostly faded over time, which I suppose makes them less of an issue. But, when they resurface in full force during the summer, I actually -- dare I say it? -- like them. They almost give the impression that I have a tan when I don’t. They make me feel healthy and alive, flourishing in spots touched by the sun. I’ve long since learned that trying to cover them with foundation is a fool’s errand, and that’s okay.
Whereas once freckles might as well have been boils on my face, for all I thought of them, today they’re a reminder of the little girl, however dissatisfied, I used to be. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pass that enlightenment onto my niece, but I’ll die trying. Because if her freckles are cute, I suppose mine must be, too.