by Jennifer Ward
“Freckles: On Finding the Beauty of My Natural Skin” is a personal essay about finding confidence and self-acceptance. I decided to write about my freckles since they were an insecurity of mine for many years. Even if you don’t have freckles, you might have something else you feel unsure of. Most of us do. This excerpt starts at the beginning of my essay, going all the way back to my childhood. I hope you find my story interesting and maybe even a little funny. At the very least, I hope you find it relatable.
– Jennifer Ward
FRECKLES: ON FINDING THE BEAUTY OF MY NATURAL SKIN
The first time I really noticed my freckles, I was standing in the schoolyard of my Brooklyn public school in 1986. My elementary school was small but diverse. Still, there weren’t many students who looked like me. Until that lunch period, it hadn’t mattered much.
My kindergarten classmates were picking teams for relay races. I waited, my hands and feet fidgeting. Beneath the cloudy sky, I stared at the opposite side of the painted white line along the concrete. It is what divided me from the rest of the crowd. Two groups of six-year-olds stared as I stood there—the only one who hadn’t been chosen for a team. Suddenly, one of my classmates glared at me and yelled, “Don’t pick her; she has freckles all over her face!” As silence fell upon the schoolyard, shame fell upon me. After being singled out for having freckly skin, I walked away. This was when I realized that to some people, one’s appearance matters much more than who we are inside.
One summer afternoon, when I was eight years old, I visited the Brooklyn Public Library. Unlike the schoolyard, the library was a non-threatening place. It became a safe haven filled with what seemed like miles of paperbacks. I wandered the book-filed aisles, relishing the cool, crisp air. Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice sat on display atop a bookshelf. The cover featured a young boy with glasses and freckles drawn onto his face with a purple marker. To have freckles was his only wish, and he believed they would appear using a special recipe. Why would anyone want to put freckles on their face? My only wish was not to have them. I didn’t think putting more spots on my already freckle-covered face was possible, so maybe somehow, the recipe would have the opposite effect on me. I borrowed the book and headed straight home to the kitchen. Out of curiosity, I followed the instructions. I mixed mayonnaise, onion, grape juice, and vinegar, among other condiments, but all I found was the worst-tasting concoction I had ever had. I only made myself sick.
Other protagonists, both literary and on-screen, offered me more helpful models for life with freckles. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, known for her long red hair and freckles, was also recognized for her wisdom and temper. She loathed her red hair, and to her, it was a curse. Finally, someone I could relate to. Then, there was Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie, who was freckled too. A girl who was feisty, fearless, and intelligent. In those moments of entertainment, I felt I wasn’t alone. I found comfort in these lead characters, who were strong and beautiful and didn’t necessarily fit the narrow conventions of idealized Hollywood beauty. I began to recognize that we all have insecurities. While they exist, they don’t have to define who we are. I thought I might not be considered very beautiful, but at least I could be intelligent and creative like those literary heroines and actresses I adored so much.
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