Hey! My name is Ashley and I’m what you’d call one of those rare freckled Asians.
You have no idea how many times I’ve been asked “You have freckles? Are they real? But you’re Asian?!?!”
I went to elementary school in a suburban area in New Jersey that was fairly diverse. I surrounded myself with friends of all races and all cultures. As a result, my brain was trained to not just accept people’s differences but to not even notice them at all. Of course, I realized some people had dark skin while some people had light skin, and that some people had blond hair and some people had black hair; but it was all the same to me. These physical distinctions defined the appearance of a person, but they did not define their hearts, they did not define them. Basically, I knew that even though everyone looked different, we were all the same.
Fast forward to the summer before freshmen year.
I went on vacation in Taiwan, to visit extended family and to relax a little before the stress of high school hit me like a truck. First, I went to stay with my old school grandmother who loves nature and meditation but for some reason lives in a bustling city full of motorcycles, small businesses, and neon lights that lit up the humid streets at night. She is a very traditional little lady with deep rooted values and a stubborn but good heart. Apparently Asian people don’t have freckles because after a couple days of me staying with her, my grandmother decided that she had had enough of staring at the little brown specks on my face and that I needed to get them removed. She knew someone, she said.
“What.” was basically all I could think. People remove their freckles? What’s wrong with freckles? To be honest, I had barely noticed my freckles before she mentioned them. I knew they were there, but they weren’t occupying much space on my face nor in my mind. Like I said, growing up surrounded by all sorts of diversity blinded me to my family culture’s traditional beauty standards. While I didn’t really feel the need to remove my freckles, I agreed to get them removed.
The following night, I followed my grandmother (kind of skeptically) to the place where “she knew someone”. In typical Taiwan fashion, we walked into an unassuming to someone’s city styled townhouse with an unassuming exterior and an interior that emitted massage parlor vibes. The place was pretty spectacular: a dimmed room filled with satisfying classical music and ornamented with burning lavender scented candles. I was wearing old one dollar flip flops from Old Navy and a workout outfit but in there, I felt like royalty nevertheless.
However, despite the glory of it all, I was still pretty eager to leave. I had no interest in changing the way I looked in any way, especially for cosmetic reasons. But, I was there for my grandmother, and her values and desires.
For half an hour, the lady primed my face for the “operation” with a soothing facial. Everything was relaxing, until it wasn’t. She put away the facial priming stuff.
“Oh! We’re done!” I thought,” Wow that was so nice.”
No. The fun had only just begun! She proceeded to cover her face with what I can only describe as a welding mask. She warned me with something along the lines of “Tell me if this hurts.”
I’m not exactly sure what she was doing to my face but it felt like those little tacks (the ones you always fear you’ll step on) piercing through your cheek… repeatedly….for half an hour.
The rest was a blur. All I knew was that my cheeks ballooned to be chipmunk cheeks and I had scarring for a week. While I managed to forget some of the pain and physical short term consequences of my freckle removal, there is something I will remember: I loved my freckles, and they were gone. Somehow I felt different without them. The sad thing is, I only realized how much significant they were to my identity until they were gone (I know I know, it’s such a cheesy thing to say, but it is so true. *Cue Let Her Go by Passenger*).
What I learned from years of trying to be other people and fit into a specific standards is that I shouldn’t.
Beauty is pain, they say. But why is it like that? Beauty is pain because we as humans allow it to be. What is beauty? While there are cultural definitions of beauty, they are extremely diverse. In Asia, freckled Asians are shunned for being different and people pay to get their freckles removed. Freckled Americans typically sport their freckles proudly and non freckled Americans often purchase stick on freckles or even opt for freckle tattoos. Additionally, having light skin is often preferred in Asian countries, with skin lightening serums selling in every beauty store; this is directly contrasted in America, where the citizens long to tan until “golden”, frequenting tanning beds and spray tan spots. Being a Taiwanese American, I’ve been exposed to both beauty standards and finally, after years of trying to fit these standards, I really don’t care anymore. Cosmetic standards, if people are and continue to change themselves to fit specific molds, will churn out homogeneous looking societies. In a world in which diversity is becoming more and more relevant, why would we want everyone to look the same?
The way beauty standards exist today represents a narrow perspective on beauty that is fundamentally flawed. If there are standards for beauty, why are the standards different from city to city, state to state, country to county and why do they change over time? How are individuals who are either multicultural or who will outlive beauty trends supposed to determine how to look their best?
Ultimately, as an American citizen with a Taiwanese family tree, it is impossible for me to be the ideal version of what each country wants me to be. There are far too many questions that cannot be answered. Therefore, I must be me. If I choose to make cosmetic adjustments, let my choices not be derived from a desire to fit specific beauty standards but rather for personal enjoyment. I do not have to fit into a generic mold. In fact, I now know that I should try not to and to be the best version of myself, for myself. With that in mind, life as a small human being in this big big world is a just a little simpler, a little happier.
Thanks for reading!
To conquering new heights through self acceptance and being always present!
Ashley Chang ❤