ara has become the latest fashion brand to be accused of hurting Chinese feelings after featuring a Chinese model with freckles (GASP!) to promote its latest makeup collection.
The promotional photos of model Li Jingwen didn’t cause any fuss when they were uploaded to the Spanish fashion brand’s website, but, when they were posted onto the company’s Weibo page on Friday, hoo boy.
While most of these early comments have since been deleted, they were reportedly filled with vitriol at Zara’s decision to use a freckled face to represent Asians, accusing the company of “insulting China” and even “uglifying China” — nevermind that 25-year-old Li, known professionally as Jing Wen, is one of China’s top models, being featured on the cover of Vogue China and in promotions for brands like Prada, Calvin Klen, and H&M.
Responding to the controversy, Zara said on Saturday that it had meant no offense and had not touched up the images with a photo editor, putting the unexpected backlash down to “differences in aesthetic tastes” between Spain and China.
Typically, having clear and unblemished skin is the beauty norm in China. In a 2016 interview, Jing Wen herself said that when she was younger she hated her own freckles. “In high school, I always tried to cover them, but now it’s ok,” the model said. “I like them, and that’s enough.”
Evidently, the weekend gave the Chinese internet time to calm down as the majority of the comments under Zara’s Weibo post are now positive and supportive of Jiang’s freckles. “A freckled face does not make you ugly, beauty is more than just pure white skin,” wrote one netizen.
Meanwhile, none other than the state-run China Daily has called out net users with an editorial accusing them of being too “sensitive” and of possibly hurting Jing Wen’s feelings in their unreasonable outrage. The piece argues:
It might be understandable that those who complain about Zara’s new advertisement might do so to prevent the nation’s image from being hurt. However, their deeds show over-sensitivity and a lack of cultural confidence. It shows they are so afraid of being hurt that they tend to take a defense gesture against any move they do not understand.
Cultural confidence is just being promoted by the leadership of this country, and tolerance is an essential part of it. Only when we learn to tolerate each other in terms of aesthetic, will cultural confidence be owned by everyone.
Besides, the model in the incident, Li Jingwen, is famous, having worked professionally for a long time. To those who are unsatisfied with her freckled face, that might be hurtful to her, too, although they might not mean any harm. Let’s hope tolerance can be promoted so that similar misunderstandings do not happen again.
It appears that Zara will make it out of this ordeal relatively unscathed, particularly compared to China’s last mega fashion scandal, involving Dolce & Gabbana.
The Italian luxury fashion house was infamously forced last November to cancel its big show in Shanghai when every single Chinese celebrity began pulling out on the day the show was supposed to take place, incensed by an ad featuring an Asian model eating pizza with chopsticks and co-owner Stefano Gabbana evidently calling China the “country of crap” on his Instagram account.
Gabbana claimed to have been hacked, spawning a “Not Me” boycott movement among Chinese consumers. Meanwhile, superstar actress Zhang Ziyi declared she would never buy from D&G again and the brand’s products were removed from all major Chinese e-commerce platforms.