Breaking the mould?

In the final stages of preparing for my first bulletin on Five News – a little like being on the first tee of a golf course, I’ll be very pleased to ‘get the first shot away’. Doing it all through the week will not only be exciting – because it is such a different world in the TV newsroom – but also hopefully, challenging… Delighted with the coverage to date – on Five, the BBC website (where apparently it was a very popular page over the weekend), and The Independent today (despite the use of ‘horrifically burned’ and a few typos!).

Two points I hope to make strongly in the week ahead:

First, that there are so many different causes of ‘facial disfigurement’ – though I suspect that the words at the moment conjure up scarring, burns and facial asymmetry (please note that I am avoiding using ‘deformity’). I need to stress that over 500,000 people in Britain are estimated to have a ‘psychologically or socially significant’ facial disfigurement. Many have facial birthmarks, cleft lips and palates and other cranio-facial conditions, skin conditions like psoriasis and acne, facial paralysis like Bell’s Palsy or after a stroke, and after surgery to treat skin or head and neck cancer. Medicine and surgery can be superb (as they were for me) but can rarely remove all trace.

When I start to explain this to people who have not really thought about disfigurement before, I can often see nodding, recognition and dawning understanding – “oh I see… yes, I know someone who has a… and they have sometimes said…”.

Not every one of the 500,000 would want to read the news but every single one should have opportunity to play such visible, everyday roles in today’s society.

Second, in so many media interviews and positions, we are expected to describe ‘the worst thing that has happened’ – and inevitably, it’s the staring, the excluding, the name-calling and bullying, the intrusive curiosity, the patronisation and low expectations that we have to describe. But reaction to someone’s disfigurement is often much subtler, more profound and unconscious – not only in the mind of the people doing the meeting but in the mind of the person themselves. Are we all hard-wired to turn away, avert eyes, fear the worst? I think not – and research confirms this. Instead, to avoid embarrassment, we reach, like a reflex, for simplistic stereotypical explanations about what it must be like to have a disfigurement and how to behave.

I am hoping that by being the face of Five News for 5 minutes each day this week, I will be able to challenge people to become aware of their culturally-determined reflexes and thereby, if not break the mould, at least start the mould-breaking – be more informed, less quick to recoil – and ultimately, challenge ‘face value judgements’.

Let’s see what happens!

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9 thoughts on “Breaking the mould?

  1. Congrats to you!

    After the Katie Piper documentary, I really think that she should have as much opportunity to pursue her tv career as anyone.

    Integration of children with disabilities has done so much to break down fear and prejudice amongst children – its time adults did the same!

  2. Hey James, firstly congratulations on your blog! Looks great. A great way for you to get your voice direct to the audience. Secondly very well done on the Channel 5 job this week. I think you are a great inspiration for everyone involved in both Changing Faces and ASTI as well as everyone else you are connected with. My hat comes off to you and I wish you all the very best.

  3. Hi James,
    I just wanted to say I was delighted when I heard someone from Changing Faces was going to be presenting the Channel 5 news. It will also hopefully be good for the profile of the charity too. I thought you did a great job, not sure if I could have done it. Congratulations.

    I have been humbled and inspired by changing faces through the years. I attended a workshop in June in Glasgow and found it a wonderful and as I said before, a totally humbling experience.
    I have a double hare lip and cleft palate myself. All my surgery was completed about 14 years, but it was a long slog. I have been bullied relentlessly through people’s ignorance of my condition. I cant see why people are so obsessed by physical appearance these days. I feel everyone is unique, should this not be celebrated? I also feel strongly that anyone should be ‘allowed’ to be on tv, not just the ‘so-called perfect people’.

    Good luck with the rest of the presenting this week James.

  4. Break a leg!

    I read about this on the Beeb news website at the weekend and think it’s a fantastic opportunity for you and the cause of Changing Faces.

    I hope it goes terribly (ok, you’re not acting but it’s still a performance, so I guess the rules on wishing luck still apply).

    Cheers,

    Graeme.

  5. I think its a wonderful idea. Most of the time it’s our lack of exposure to disfigurement that make us respond in hurtful ways. The more we see people with disfigurement on television and in the media doing jobs like presenting the less of a big deal it becomes.

    You’re very brave because there will be some idiots who won’t like it and will say so.

  6. I’m a TV journalist and I’m writing from Spain. I’ve got a blog called http://www.javierlunaro.blogspot.com where I speak about you and the goal you’re getting. I’m very attentive to what’s gonna happen. Are you gonna increase the ‘five news’ audience or is it falling? If you stay there, wlll you be able to keep that audience or not? And about the people’s motivations to watch you, what will they be? Sensationalism or just watching news?

    I wish you keep me informed about the audiences and reactions because on my blog me and my friends are following you very closely. I finish. I translate you a little part of my last post: “In a world where the dissapearing beauty overwhelms values like maturacy or being wise, here we have Mr Partridge to the tell us what happens around the world. And he makes it in a relaxing and simple way, without shrillness, with a perfect pronunciation. There is no need of simulating a false self security, because he does not need it. He does not need to show forced smiles, but he knows what he is doing is more tan important”.

    (In Spanish: “En un mundo donde se premia la belleza efímera sobre la madurez y la sabiduría, aparece la figura de Partridge para contarnos lo que pasa en el mundo. Lo hace de una manera tranquila y sobria, sin estridencias, con una dicción perfecta, sin tan siquiera fingir una falsa seguridad, porque lo necesita, sin sonrisas forzadas, sabiendo que lo que está haciendo es más que importante”).

  7. With respect, given the amount of very plain men already featured on TV (e.g. Andrew Marr, John Sergeant) and on news programmes, this isn’t such a vast breakthrough as getting a disfigured woman doing this would be.
    As regards Katie Piper, I am also a patient of Chelsea & Westminister Plastics Team and can tell you that the patients who unlike her were not previously topless models from whom the consultants can obtain career boosting publicity do not get the same privileged treatment that she has received. I have been very badly and totally unnecessarily facially deformed (my choice of word) by the incompetence and negligence of doctors including doctors from that team, and a Plastics female registrar gave me unsolicited advice that now I was no longer an attractive woman I should see it as an opportunity to develop another aspect of my personality. A lead clinician in the team has insisted that I will feel happier about the mess that they have made of my face in due course and if not, I need counselling. So I’d suggest that people treat aspects of the TV documentary about Ms. Piper with real cycnicism – you for example will not be sent for free treatment in a complementary medecine clinic in France, and they will suggest to you that you should buy silicone gel yourself at £30 per 15g even though ti is available on the NHS.

  8. Great work. I don’t care what a person looks like as long as I can see their mind and heart. You obviously have copious amounts of both. Best wishes.

  9. Wow you were great James! You’re a good public speaker so of course you’d make a great newsreader, I was so excited to see you there and I’ve emailed C5 to ask please can we have more. Can we also have more people with all kinds of differences on TV presenting programmes because this would achieve far more than some of the anti-stigma campaigns there are out there. My arms are scarred from self injury and someone very close to me has a cleft palate so seeing you reading the news just gave me hope. Thank you

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