Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What's wrong with your skin?

photo via photobucket (krashcdm)
I am indisputable Irish. You can perhaps tell just by looking at me; I've been told by real Irishmen that I look the part. It's also there in old US census records. I traced back my mom's lineage to the "old country" and my maternal grandpa's paternal grandpa was indeed born somewhere in Ireland. Everyone loves the Irish, don't they? What other country has a drunken holiday entirely devoted to it? Could you get away with wearing a "Kiss me, I'm German" shirt? I think not.

So I suppose it's a good thing to be part Irish. Except for the times when it isn't--like those summer days when I would lay out on our asphalted driveway with the neighbor girl, desperately hoping to get a tan and ending up looking like a lobster. Or when the movie Casper came out and suddenly all my middle school classmates found it hilarious to nickname me after a ghost. Yes, I have very, very white skin and I always hated it, until I came to China.

The Chinese, and I suppose Asians in general, have a thing for white skin. They use lotion with whiteners and spend the entire summer hiding under a parasol. In Asia, I have often been complimented on my skin tone, which has been an adjustment after it having it been under constant scrutiny growing up. In recent years, I've come to embrace my paleness and no long hide my frighteningly white legs in summer. I wear shorts, almost with pride.

While I'm not longer ashamed of my fairness, I have become somewhat shy about something else--my freckles. As a kid, I never minded them. I was told they were cute. But the Chinese don't seem to agree. I remember once watching an episode of the TV show Lost with Ming. One of the characters, Kate, was given the pet name of "Freckles" by another character that seemed to have the hots for her. Ming looked at me confused.

"Why's he calling her that? I thought he liked her." In his mind, it was like calling your crush a fatso. It made no sense and would totally ruin a dude's game.

"He does like her. He calls her that because he thinks her freckles are cute. They are cute," I assured him.

"Hmm," he mulled it over for a bit, "I guess they could be. . . "

"What? You don't think my freckles are cute?" I teased.

"Well, I guess now I do!"

Thank heavens for Lost, it allowed Ming to see my freckles in a whole new light! Unfortunately, he's probably the only one out of a population of 1.3 billion. I was reminded of this not once, but twice, this past week. . . .

It starts with a concerned look at my arm and then an obvious attempt to grasp at the appropriate words in English, words that won't be too insulting. The conversation goes something like this:

"What are those on your arm?" asks Concerned Chinese Person (CCP).

"Freckles," I answer, knowing damn well CCP hasn't the slightest idea what that means. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I can never remember the word in Chinese.

Curiosity tends to override manners now, so goes the follow-up question, "I'm sorry. What's wrong with your skin?"

"Nothing is wrong. They are called freckles. Many foreigners have them," I explain.

I see the suspicion in CCP's eyes and maybe even a little pity. CCP fears I have cancer or some other disease.

"It's because I'm part Irish. Irish people often have these. I'm not sick," I reassure CCP. This generally seems to satisfy the questioner on the topic of freckles even if my arm is still looked at with distaste.

My freckles are out in full blaze now that it's summer but I try not to be too self-conscious. While sometimes I wish people wouldn't look at my freckles like they are the sign of some underlying illness, I know that beauty standards are different everywhere. I can think freckles are cute even if they don't.

What about you? Is there a feature you have that you've been teased about? Have you ever found that beauty standards are different when you've lived or traveled in places far from where you grew up?


Anonymous said...

That is something I have never thought of before, but I guess expected for the CCR (lol) who maybe has never seen many people outside of their community.

there are plenty of freckles in the US. i like them.

Anonymous said...

CCP rather

Autumn said...

Your post reminds me of some of the blogs by women of African heritage when traveling in mostly white or Asian countries. Everyone stares, everyone wants to touch their hair, etc. I never thought freckles would be a similar deal in Asia! Thanks, as usual, for an interesting post.

You know, I kinda wish we could send all the racist white Americans to rural China. I bet many of them have freckles. I would enjoy watching CCPs offer them sympathy for their "sad affliction." ;)

You did a nice job taking it in stride, though.

Anonymous said...

I also get freckles during summer time but not as much as you I guess. I only get them in my face but this summer nothing thus far as we had barely any sun!
My in-laws didnt think anything wrong with my skin so I guess it just depends how much people might be open to differences people have from different countries :)

rosieinbj said...

@BAP, I know what you mean. When I came to China I was complimented on my "double eyelids." I didn't know what that meant and that having "double eyelids" is more beautiful than "single eyelids" to many Chinese people, both men and women. I'm not sure if this is the beauty standards for ethnic Chinese outside of China though? It seems we are heavily influenced by whatever the standard of beauty in our individual communities.

@Autumn, the hair touching happened to one of my foreign friends in China (she is black). She had a really hard time with it because strangers would do it without even asking!

@CrazyChineseFamily, your in-laws may just be more polite! But yes, some people are more open-minded and where I live locals have very little chance to interact with foreigners so they are curious and unknowing about a lot of things.

Betty has a Panda said...

You look so beautiful with your blue eyes and freckles! I can't see what's wrong with it, but of course I am used to them and know what they are as I get them myself on my nose every summer.
But even more my Chinese grandma is really concerend about my light skin color, she always asks if I am sick and hands me something to eat. And grandpa blames it on eating not enough meat.

rosieinbj said...

Hi Betty, thanks for your comment. That's interesting that your grandma was concerned about your light skin tone. I have also gotten comments (though never from Chinese people) that my pale skin looks unhealthy.

Anonymous said...

Yay fellow Irishwoman! I totally hear you about being called capser in high school. I was constantly called 'the goth chick,' just because I was pale as a ghost and had black hair. I guess it's the curse of the Irish.

Freckles, too. I hide from the sun not only to protect my chalk white skin that would turn lobster red in minutes, but also to prevent freckles.

When I went to Thailand last year, I put sun block ALL OVER my body in order to prevent the dreaded freckles/sun spots. I thought I was save... until...

I came home and noticed that I got a sun spot on my lip. Right smack on my lip. And I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of it.... damn you Irish ancestors!!

So make sure to use chap stick... don't end up like me, ha.

And I DO think freckles are cute! (and I bet they're super cute on you!)

rosieinbj said...

@Mary, it's interesting that you ended up with such light skin. Having an Asian parent, you'd think the darker tone would win, but genetics is funny. Despite what we expected, our son (half Chinese, half white) is very pale and I almost feel bad for the little guy. He has a few sunburns coming in his future.

Eileen Huang said...

The weirdest complement I got from Asia is that I have a "small" face. Whatever that means. Despite my first name is Irish and have Irish from my Grandmother's father's side, I obviously don't look Irish (or English, for that matter) at all. I get freckles but it's rare. I just tan rather well. I don't try to tan because it just damages your skin, anyway.

rosieinbj said...

@Eileen, YES, tanning is horrible for your skin. I couldn't be convinced of it (or just didn't care) when I was younger, but after coming to China I totally changed my attitude. I don't quite go to the lengths of Chinese women, but I do try to stay out of the sun if I can help it.