Review of Denise Papas Meechan’s Freckles

Developmental Editing by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Editing and Posting by Sabrina Hirsch

This review is part of double feature on the film Freckles. Please check out Katie Grimes’s interview with director Denise Papas Meechan.

Freckles (2016). 15 minutes. Directed by Denise Papas Meechan. Starring Jenn Halweil, Jane Dashow, and Andrew Price.

Still from Freckles

Your legs are too short. Your skin is too dark. Your stomach isn’t flat enough.

Day in and day out, women are accosted with messages that shame their bodies, whether they’re from advertisements, television shows, or family members. It’s an aspect of our lives that fades to the background yet colors our entire perception of ourselves. In Freckles, director Denise Papas Meechan puts the issue of body shaming at the forefront. In this short psychological drama, Lizzie is distraught by the number of freckles that cover her body: her freckles not only destroy Lizzie’s self-confidence but make her feel completely unworthy of love.

The film begins with Lizzie lying in bed, her face turned from the camera, her body surrounded by pale sheets in a colorless room—her posture and the setting reflect the defeat and emptiness she feels inside. In a haunting voiceover, Lizzie explains the agony she has endured her entire life. The freckles her mother called “kisses from God” are the same “ugly orange dots” that caused kids to bully her at school. She longs to scrub what she sees as blemishes off, anything to make her accepted by her peers, yet they remain. In the shower, closeups of Lizzie rhythmically scrubbing her freckled body epitomize her lifelong struggle to transform herself into someone different. Lizzie’s voice breaks, sobs interspersing her monologue, as she talks about looking in the mirror and seeing someone no one will ever love—knowing that she will die alone. As the camera directs our gaze into Lizzie’s eyes, we see the anguish of a woman tormented by her appearance, who believes “no one will ever get to see who I am underneath.”

Throughout Freckles, viewers are invited to see the world how Lizzie sees it. As she exits her apartment and walks down the street, the camera takes her perspective; people walking by turn and stare in pity, disgust, or mild horror. The audience is made to feel the rejection that she experiences everyday. The anxious (almost throbbing) music, well-timed slow motion, and cuts back to Lizzie’s face make the scene surreal: Is this how people truly react to her appearance? Or are these the reactions Lizzie perceives, conditioned by past experience to believe that people are repulsed by her? It’s unclear, and the more we watch, the more it becomes apparent that Lizzie’s freckles have taken a toll on her psychologically. She sees her freckles not only as a disease that infects her body but as the source of her darkest thoughts: “these freckles are the measles of my sick, sick heart… They are the place where my demons hide.” And by the end of the film, Lizzie’s inner turmoil completes its transformation into violence. We see, in a visceral manner, the negative impact of the constructs of beauty.

Freckles joins a growing body of work, including Killing Us Softly, Thin, Embrace, The Illusionists, and Real Women Have Curves, that exposes the danger of perpetuating unattainable beauty standards. Whether from media, advertising, or critical family members and friends, messages of what “real” beauty looks like constantly badger women. Women are expected to be beautiful and to want to be beautiful. It’s a high-stakes game—a woman’s worth, to a great extent, becomes dependent upon her beauty. And because of this, women become objects to stare at, not beings that think, feel, and do. In Freckles, Lizzie suffers the acute effects of this objectification: she is psychologically scarred, unable to do anything without agonizing over her appearance and the loneliness she feels because of it. Lizzie’s singleness and virginity is something that she blames entirely on her freckles. A painful scene that shows Lizzie’s failed attempts at masturbation show that it’s companionship, not sexual pleasure that she yearns for. Lizzie’s blood that runs down the shower drain is a visual metaphor: the very body that allows her to live is tearing her mind apart.

Freckles is a shocking film. I was drawn in by the intensity of Lizzie’s pain and disturbed by some of the scenes—I wanted to turn away but couldn’t. Ultimately, I was left with a deep sense of empathy and connection with Lizzie’s struggles. Her story is important because her experience reflects that of so many women who yearn for love but feel they don’t deserve it because they don’t conform to society’s standard of beauty. As long as women are considered pretty objects instead of complex human beings, these types of stories need to continue to be told. Freckles reminds viewers that when unattainable beauty standards are embedded within a woman’s psyche, the repercussions can be catastrophic.

This review is part of double feature on the film Freckles. Please check out Katie Grimes’s interview with director Denise Papas Meechan.

Click here to visit the film’s website and here to view Katie’s profile.