Zara was forced to explain itself after Chinese netizens said its feature of a freckle-faced top model was insulting

Top model Jing Wen’s freckles have sparked debate about Zara’s motivations in China.
Zara Weibo

Gigi Hadid, Emma Watson, Lucy Liu, Kylie and Kendall Jenner – these are just some of the world’s beautiful women who have not been afraid to show the world their freckled complexions.

But when Chinese top model Jing Wen went au naturel on a recent Zara campaign, some netizens were not pleased.

The 25-year-old Guangdong native’s face sparked debate over the weekend when Spanish fast fashion brand Zara posted photos of her with minimal make up on its Weibo page.

The Zara photos featuring Jing Wen have sparked controversy.
Zara China Weibo

Released on Friday (Feb 15) as part of a campaign for Zara’s own make up line, the close-up shots of Jing Wen (whose real name is Li Jingwen) show off her freckled cheeks in all their glory.

Chinese netizens were quick to notice the model’s unique look, and many were outraged that Zara would use a promotional photo of a Chinese model with blemished skin.

One Weibo user with the handle @Ymlucky said: “By photographing a model this way, are you trying to be sensational or vilify Asians?”

Another netizen with the handle @EvelynYoung_23 said Zara must have worked hard to search for a needle in a haystack, as it managed to find a model whose skin was blemished at such a young age. “Sorry, but we Asian females don’t have skin blemishes. Even if there are (such women), they are also few in number,” the netizen wrote.

The same photos are featured prominently on Zara’s China page.
Screengrab from Zara.cn

One woman said she had initially anticipated the release of Zara’s new make up collection, but “after seeing the model’s looks, there is no desire to buy”.

But not all Chinese netizens agreed with these viewpoints.

“Does she not look good? Everyone has their own understanding of beauty. Do you feel that the influencer look is good looking? This is the beauty of self-confidence, do you understand?” a top comment read

A Weibo user with the handle @yialoon added that the difference between Eastern and Western makeup concepts was that the latter focuses on accentuating one’s uniqueness and charm, while the former emphasises the hiding of these features.

Another said: “As a Chinese person born and bred in China, after reading the comments, I’ve learned for the first time that my looks are insulting to China.”

‘Difference in aesthetics’

The unexpected controversy prompted Zara to issue a response two days later, clarifying that it did not mean to insult Asians with its latest photos.

Blaming the controversy on a “difference in aesthetics”, Zara’s China office said Jing Wen was chosen for the campaign by the brand’s Spain headquarters. It also said that the photos were taken in a “natural manner”, without any digital manipulation, Chinese media reported.

Zara said that the photos were taken in a “natural manner”, without any digital manipulation.
Screengrab from Zara.cn

It added that the promotional photos were meant for global release, and not targeted only at China’s consumers.

The reactions to Zara’s campaign come less than three months after Italian designer brand Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) were accused of racism. In November last year, D&G had to cancel a large-scale fashion show in Shanghai after it published a video of a Chinese model eating Italian foods clumsily with chopsticks.

The brand’s founders also had to apologise after Stefano Gabbana allegedly insulted China in direct messages sent to people who confronted him about his alleged stance. The brand said at the time that Gabbana’s account had been hacked.

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