Freckles are a rare feature on people of East Asian descent. For years model Li Jingwen felt pressure to cover up or hide hers.
In an interview with Vogue from 2016, Jingwen recalled “When I was little, I really hated [my freckles] because normally Asian people don’t have them.”
She added, “In high school, I always tried to cover them, but now it’s ok. I like them, and that’s enough.”
Unfortunately, Spanish company Zara’s decision not to cover Jingwen’s natural features to make her appearance more ordinary left many Chinese netizens angry and outraged.
Some accused Zara of humiliating Chinese people by glorifying a feature that many of them don’t have. Others insulted her skin for looking blemished.
One especially nasty critic declared that “such pictures featuring an Asian model with freckles and an expressionless pie-shaped face mislead Westerners’ impressions about Asian women, and can lead to racism against Asian women.”
Zara shot back against critics of Jingwen’s freckles, stating, “the aesthetics of the Spanish people are different.”
To edit Jingwen’s features would have gone against their company’s policy. They elaborated that “our models are all photographed purely, the pictures aren’t changed, and they’re not modified.”
It’s also worth highlighting that a number of netizens have also jumped to Jingwen’s defense. The hashtag #ZaraRespondsToUglifyingChineseModelComments began trending on social media site Weibo.
They stand by Zara’s refusal to alter Jingwen’s photos and believe that nobody should be shamed for their natural features.
Backlash against Zara has been compared to last year’s Dolce & Gabbana incident in which a commercial showing a Chinese model was seen as racist, stereotypical, and an insult to the Chinese people. The model in question believed the bad publicity ruined her career and the company was forced to apologize and cancel a major fashion show.
Still, many feel that a line needs to be drawn between using racist stereotypes and imagery and simply featuring a model who has differing features. At the very least, fashion companies will need to be cognizant of promotions being warped into full on smear campaigns when it comes to China.