They didn’t really start to come in until summer before fifth grade. But when they hit, they hit hard. I didn’t realize it until someone said something, which I defensively refuted with “No, I’m not!” Then I saw a photo of myself squinting on a ferry in the sun, and there was no denying it anymore.
Goddammit, I am a freckleface.
Middle school happened and with the ensuing crippling insecurity blossomed more freckles. Looking back, I’m grateful I didn’t also have braces during this time because the freckles-braces combo is an extra rough look. It immediately alerts strangers that they are in the presence of a future late bloomer. I didn’t even need a mouth of metal to let others know that.
It was destined to happen, though. My father, a red-faced man of Irish/German/French (or English??? we honestly don’t know) descent had freckles as a kid, too. My mom still does. But here’s the kicker: She’s 100% Chinese. Yes, Asians can have freckles, too, guys.
My veil of brown flecks, quite literally, added another layer of obscurity to an already mysterious ethnicity. Pretty much my entire life I’ve been asked one question — first by peers, then by teachers or friends’ parents, later from coworkers and naturally by drunk guys in bars — “What are you?” It’s a question I hated and still don’t care for, but if I had known how on-trend racial ambiguity would be today, I would have chilled out a long time ago.
By the time I was a teenager, I wanted to look sexier and more mature than my childish face would allow. And my skin goals, along with most white girls (or vaguely white, in my case) included being as dark as humanly possible, no matter the cost. I spent too many August afternoons of roasting in the sun, body slathered in tanning oil, believing a burn was a sign of a great glow to come. I cringe now, knowing what I know about skin cancer. But at the time, I thought if all of me was tanner, my freckles would be hidden. Nay, young, stupid Julia — your freckles will simply multiply and become even more pronounced!
My younger brother, on the other hand, was blessed with the type of skin that darkens quickly and evenly over the course of a day. He doesn’t burn — the bastard goldens. And while he too has some freckles, they appear carefully flicked across his nose and cheeks while mine look as if someone with a mouthful of coffee forcefully spat on my face, shoulders and arms like in an office scene of some goofy comedy. You can understand my resentment towards him.
My personal freckle aversion has never really come from others. Most people who’ve mentioned them tell me how cute they are or that they wish they had them themselves. A Walgreen’s cashier once told me they were angel kisses. A few friends have tried to relate by identifying the black dots on their arms as freckles, but I don’t have the heart to point out, “That’s a mole, bro.”
I’ve been told I should be proud of my freckles, as if they were a sign of some personal achievement and not a result of poor choices as a high school sophomore. The idea that freckles are cute in the first place is strange if you think about it. They’re nothing more than damaged skin cells with too much melanin in them. They’re basically the epidermis’ version of going bald or getting cavities — they show that your body has done some living and that you’re closer to your inevitable demise. Sorry to be a downer, but all I’m saying is that if a kid you love starts getting a bunch of freckles, slather him or her in some serious SPF.
Maybe I’ll grow to like my freckles as I get older. Maybe I’ll appreciate that they add a bit of mischievousness to my innocent-looking face. Maybe one day I’ll be flattered when the bouncer looks down at my ID then up at me, suspicious I’m actually a young South American boy disguised as a grown woman. In some weird way, maybe my freckles will prevent me from ever feeling completely like a grownup, and I’ll be grateful for that.
I certainly don’t want more though — not just because of appearances but because of my health. I haven’t been to the beach in over two years. My legs are the color of Tilda Swinton’s breasts, unless Tilda Swinton has unusually tan boobs I’m not aware of. But in the meantime, I feel the same way about my freckles as I imagine an older, jaded gay man feels at a pride parade: Not thrilled but accepting. Fine with it. I’m fine with it. These freckles are what they are, and I am who I am, and it’s fine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in the shade.
Julia Shiplett is a comic in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.