Zara sparks furore over freckled Chinese model

Spanish fashion retailer Zara appears to have inadvertently sparked off a social media furore over the appearance of freckled Chinese model Jing Wen in one of its recent ads.

In China, spots on the face are generally considered blemishes and are associated with disease and old age. Freckles are somewhat rare.

In a country where racial homogeneity is a touchstone for beauty, outliers – the bushy eyebrowed, the wavy haired – are unlikely to be considered attractive. In the fashion industry, however, it’s these outliers who tend to have the unique, striking looks that brands prefer for their ambassadors.

Despite hating her freckles as a child, Guangzhou model Jing Wen eventually learned to accept and capitalise on her point of difference. As a model for such brands as Calvin Klein and H&M, her face has even been called “iconic” by China’s media. Even so, her recent work with Zara has produced an outcry among local netizens who claim the use of the model intentionally “uglifies” the Chinese people.

Michael Kors - Fall 2017 Collection

A BBC report on the freckled Chinese model quoted some disgruntled users of the Weibo microblog as voicing their anger over the images. “Such pictures featuring an Asian model with freckles and an expressionless pie-shaped face mislead Westerners’ impressions about Asian women,” said one user, “and can lead to racism against Asian women.”

A spokesperson for Zara interviewed by Pear Video website commented that the advertisements were targeted at their global market, and not specifically at China.

“The aesthetics of the Spanish people are different,” they said, adding “our models are all photographed purely, the pictures aren’t changed, and they’re not modified.”

Zara’s response has provoked considerable debate within China on the issue, with some claiming the model has been bullied only by her fellow Chinese, and that more should be done to help China’s people embrace beauty in diversity. Others have called into question the false patriotism of those too eager to mount an attack on foreign brands.

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