by Ellen Perry
He’s basically one giant freckle, my Dad, his skin so populated with them that they overlap and merge together. But whereas he loves the sun, I have both my Mum’s fair Irish skin, and my Dad’s freckles: a combination that has contrived to make me struggle in the heat, and to have to be super careful to avoid sunburn.
And if I’m honest, the difficulty has at times gone beyond the skin-deep. While I’ve somehow managed to dodge many other body image battles, when I was younger, I kind of hated my complexion. I have memories of being called ‘spotty’ at primary school, and feeling jealous in my early teenage years of my peers’ plain, unmarked faces. My freckles were another thing that made me feel different, an all-too-visual reminder to add to the tallness, the cleverness, the quietness, at a time when all you really want is to be like everyone else. To be accepted, average, and unselfconscious.
As I’ve got older, I also see my freckles and complexion as a valued connection to my parents, and more, to my ancestry beyond that – to Celtic roots and lineage, grandparents and cycles of existence
But I suppose because I knew I couldn’t really change them, I always had this sense of my freckles as a key part of me. They silently persisted, and so I begrudgingly accepted them and their presence on my face, joking about being ‘pale and interesting’. Weirdly, my first proper boyfriend was also really freckly, and people used to laugh about us looking the same. I wish it hadn’t taken a romantic relationship to feel a little better about them, but in seeing my freckles in someone else, and in liking them for it, I felt slightly less uncomfortable.
Then, somehow, slowly, my perspective shifted further, and I started to feel strangely attached to the marks on my face. You can get used to your reflection, I think. You accumulate experiences and people tell you they like things about you that you previously would have wished away, and your confidence can build. As I’ve got older, I also see my freckles and complexion as a valued connection to my parents, and more, to my ancestry beyond that – to Celtic roots and lineage, grandparents and cycles of existence.
In the summer, they multiply, and so I associate them with a lot of wonderful things
In all the photos of me throughout my life, my freckles are there: part of the photographer-prompted cheeky smile of my first school picture, as an accompaniment to my often hilarious teenage fashion experiments, and etched on my drunken face on student nights out. In the summer, they multiply, and so I associate them with a lot of wonderful things – holidays, music festivals, long light days, fun, joy. I’ve given up ever trying to get a tan, admitting defeat as the mercury rises and covering myself in (at least) factor 30. Because more than anything, my inheritance of freckles has taught me about self-acceptance. It feels like a true act of self-care, of self-love even, to recognise what is and to look after myself accordingly.
Recently, I’ve been conscious that my freckles might be fading. Of course, it’s winter, and so they are lying low, but I know that they can disappear as you get older. What will be will be, but I don’t really feel ready to let them go. Having circled through many emotions about my freckles, and reached a place of acceptance, I can’t help but hope that some of them will stay. And should I have children, I hope perhaps I might pass them on; part of a genetic thread that connects and shapes any future generations – just as my freckles have shaped who I am, too.