BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP) - Fashion and cosmetics brand Zara was recently in trouble because one of its advertisements which featured a female Chinese model was blamed for "defaming the Chinese".
The advertisement was released last Friday (Feb 15) on the Spanish label's official website. Titled "Beauty is here", it stars a Chinese woman wearing the brand's clothes and aims to introduce new cosmetics.
Yet, after Zara shared it on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, some of the comments noted that the model had freckles on her face, suggesting that by selecting her as the model, Zara might mean to "defame the Chinese", because a perfect face should be without any freckles.
Some also added that the model in the photo did not appear to be in a good, energetic mood.
"Does Zara mean all Asian girls have freckles on their faces?" read one of the hottest comments on the Zara release.
"Cannot believe they pick a freckled face on behalf of Asian females," said another.
Some of the comments, deleted very soon after being posted, even suggested Zara might mean to "insult" China, as the Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana did in November.
D&G are reeling from a boycott in China after its calamitous advertising campaign of a Chinese woman struggling to eat spaghetti and pizza with chopsticks that was decried as racist.
The label's co-founder Stefano Gabbana appeared to add fuel to the fire with a private Instagram exchange in which he used a smiling turd emoji to describe the country and referred to "China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia".
D&G insisted his account was hacked.
In the latest incident involving Zara, the majority of the comments said they do not think Zara means any harm.
"It is OK for anyone to have a freckled face, so why cannot a model?" was another one of the hottest comments.
Last Saturday, Zara responded that it meant no harm. The company said photos of the model were taken in an all-natural way, without any software manipulation, and the reactions might just be differences in aesthetics.
By Sunday evening, the hashtag #Zara responds about the Chinese model advertisement# had already been read 460 million times on Sina Weibo, making it one of the hottest of the day.
In a bid to calm the situation, state-run media China Daily said in an editorial that those who complained about Zara's new ad might be trying to protect the nation's image but their actions also show "over-sensitivity and a lack of cultural confidence".
It shows they are so afraid of being hurt that they tend to take a defensive gesture against any move they do not understand, it added.
"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 aesthetics will cultural confidence be owned by everyone," said the editorial published on China's Daily's website on Sunday.
"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 said.