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Zara has been accused of “uglifying” a top Chinese model Li Jingwen


TextKamara Hakeem-Oyawoye

An unretouched Zara campaign featuring freckled model has caused outrage in China

Zara has caused widespread outrage across China thanks to a new beauty campaign featuring unretouched photos of Chinese model, Li Jingwen, in which she appears almost bare-faced with her freckles on display. It is the presence of these freckles which has sparked a serious debate on social media over Chinese beauty standards.

In Asia, spotless, pale and glassy complexions are considered more beautiful. Hence the popularity of extensive beauty regimes and widespread use of whitening creams and sunscreen. So, when social media users saw this image, most insisted that Zara "uglified" the model, and used an unattractive and improper representation of her.

It was reported by CNN that a Weibo user stated they will no longer purchase Zara products, "not because I think the model is ugly, but because you are discriminating Asians' view of beauty". Another stated that "we Asian women don't have freckles" and concluded that Zara "must have tried very hard to find such a model". However, where some shamed Zara for the "uglified" image, others defended the model arguing that beauty is the eye of the beholder. One Weibo user wrote “Li Jingwen is thousands of times more beautiful than those faces that have been retouched”, while another added, “Please don't live in the filters, isn't it good to be real?”

In efforts to defend themselves, a Zara spokesperson released an interview on digital Chinese news platform, Pear Video, stating that this “is what she looks like, and the photos haven’t been retouched. They were taken in a natural state.”

Talking to CNN, New York-based Chinese filmmaker, Maya Yu Zhang, stated that the hostility towards the image stems from the desire for global brands to depict Asian consumers in ways that align with their own beauty standards. "Chinese people sometimes forget how diverse we actually are," she said. This is a subject particularly close to home for Maya, who was frequently pressured by her mother to remove her beauty marks.

Freckles, along with other skin conditions are commonly shamed in the mass media. While individualism and inclusivity are on the rise, it seems that we still have a long way to go in changing the notions of beauty globally.

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