When you Google the term "freckles," two of the top four listings to show up are links advising you on how to prevent and/or remove freckles with laser treatments and bleaching. Stop imposing your outdated beauty standards on me, Google! And as for bleaching my skin: F that S! It took a while, but I'm in a place now where I am both freckled and proud.
I realize that in the grand scheme of things, freckles are no big deal. It's not as though I've ever been discriminated against due to the (mottled) color of my skin, and I'm not trying to put the having of freckles into that kind of category at all. I'm not insane.
It's just that I didn't always see these random spots of melanin as a good thing. In most respects, I kind of felt like a freak.
The path to self-esteem can be a twisty mofo when the media icons you most relate to as your youth are Alfred E. Neuman and Pippi Longstocking. Now, there aren't a lot of people -- fictional or not -- that I love more than Alfred and Pippi, but neither of them had a look I wanted to emulate at the prom, if you know what I mean.
My gap-toothed smile, big ears and face full of sun-spots also used to garner loud and repetitive comparisons to Howdy Doody. The neighborhood bullies did get pretty clever though, and at least feminized their taunts by calling me "Heidi Doody" when I sat near them on the school bus. They get points for originality on that one.
If a fashion magazine I picked up mentioned freckles at all, it was in the context of removing or downplaying them. Is it any wonder that in sixth grade I used to scrub my face with baking soda and lemon juice, hoping it would bleach them away? Or that I spent my allowance on Max Factor Pan-Cake makeup as soon as I was allowed to start wearing it? If I'd had access to that Dermablend stuff, I would have put it all over my body, especially on days we had to swim in gym class.
One day, in high school, I was browsing in a book store and saw a coffee table book entirely made up of photos of Irish women, many of them freckled redheads. It was the first time I'd seen so many women that looked like me represented in one place. What's more, I found them beautiful.
I began seeing my freckles in a different light, finally realizing they might actually be something that made me unique -- not ugly. That maybe they were a feature worth highlighting, not concealing. It sounds dumb now, after not giving them a second thought for so many years, but it really was something that troubled me at a very young age. It makes me sad.
I wonder how differently I'd have felt if I were growing up now. There are several noticeably-freckled celebrities (Julianne Moore, Lucy Liu, Emma Stone, Alia Shawkat) pictured regularly in magazines. There are freckle appreciation groups on Flickr, several freckle-positive Tumblrs (including one specifically focused on black women with freckles), and even YouTube tutorials on creating fake freckles.
All this might have bolstered my confidence a bit, but unfortunately there's always the chance I would have found something new to obsess about, like bumpy nipple syndrome.
What about you guys? Is there a physical feature that drove you crazy as a kid, that you've grown to appreciate as an adult? Also: any other Pippi lovers in the house? Lemme hear you say VILLA VILLAKULA!