Cooking up a face equality storm

Our new children’s campaign for face equality has got off to a flying start.  Last week all the children were here in London filming the last scenes for the forthcoming CBBC documentary and spotting their own poster on the tube.  Max appeared on This Morning and will be cooking with celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo on the programme next week.  An article written by Lucas was published in the New Statesman and both Lauren and Harry were interviewed for national newspapers.

Comments on the website are encouraging too.  One person said ‘I applaud the initiative to give the young people the confidence to face the world with optimism.’ Indeed, the posters radiate positivity and challenge the assumption that any child with a disfigurement is not confident about or ambitious for a bright future.

However, what the posters make very clear is that all of us, including those of us with disfigurements and our friends and families too, are deeply conditioned in our thinking about disfigurement by widely-held but often unacknowledged beliefs.

These beliefs work in quite subtle ways:

You may assume that the future of a child or adult with a disfigurement future is not going to be very exciting and behave towards them accordingly – with sympathy, a bit patronising, perhaps, or saying ‘nice to meet you’ without meaning it. Or you might assume that it would be wrong to expect too much – so you don’t put us forward for tough challenges at school or discourage us from going for some jobs – especially if they are public-facing ones. Or perhaps you think that we won’t be much fun to be with, rather shy or a little edgy or aggressive. Or just plain embarrassing to meet – you don’t know where to look or what to say.

Since the New Year I’ve spoken about our new campaign at a big secondary school, a  function for employers and at a women’s networking lunch. At all, I was asked to explain how I personally had managed to debunk those assumptions – and what Changing Faces is doing. The answer has three interlinked parts:

(a) With hindsight, I managed, by trial and error, to discover how to behave towards other people in such a way as to ‘manage’ their reactions; mostly that meant being pro-active, taking the initiative to set them at ease – and these ‘social interactions skills’ are what Changing Faces teaches through our workshops, face-to-face work and our self-help guides.

(b) I had to very deliberately demystify disfigurement in my own eyes so that instead of seeing and valuing my scarring as unattractive and never-to-be-liked, my aesthetic values changed so that I found interest and beauty in all faces, not just those we are told are beautiful. Changing Faces is encouraging this process by showing so many wonderful faces in our literature and adverts – and people are starting to say ‘of course, ah ha…’.

(c) I needed to find other examples of how people had turned their worlds around and learn from them – feminists were a particular source of insight…

Today more and more people with disfigurements are standing alongside Max, Lauren, Lucas and Harry calling for face equality like Riam Dean (who won her case against Abercrombie and Fitch for their looks policy) and Katie Piper, the model and acid survivor who has told her story so powerfully on Channel 4.

It’s time for everyone to start challenging these assumptions!

Optimism for the year ahead, despite the chill

What a start to the year – cold and freezing outside here in London, Guernsey airport frozen, so home seems far away, mixed messages on the economy, a winning draw in the Test match in Cape Town and lots of optimism for the year ahead at Changing Faces! We have had some superb donations over the Christmas period almost all of them completely out of the blue – which is so humbling…

It is also wonderful to see what can happen after a donation. One family in Scotland gave a donation in memory of their remarkable father who’d be badly burned years ago but had adjusted fantastically and become a local legend. Our Scottish Officer sent the family some leaflets to distribute in the community, and they gave some to the local high school, Strathaven Academy. A teacher saw the leaflet and invited him to speak to 5th year students (16 year olds) as part of a Personal, Health and Social Education day. He spoke to four groups of students (about 80 altogether) and reports that the talk, discussion and all our literature and resources were well received. The school would like us to return again next year. “A fine example of a donation leading to important links being made” as he rightly says.

The external highlight of my first week back after a great family-focused festive season full of Christmas cheer and goodwill to all, was to attend last night’s School of Pharmacy Lecture at the Royal Society, celebrating its 350th year, on the future of cancer drugs. It was a privilege to listen to a highly-informed and balanced view from Professor Stephen Neidle – drug therapies have come a long way over the last 50 years but, as he pointed out, research to find effective therapies for many of the common cancers still has far to go. He did not want to be critical of the media for their high-blown and over-optimistic headlines but I wondered why not; as in other fields of medical research, patients and families – and everyone else – needs honest and realistic expectations, not least because that would encourage healthier lifestyles in all probability. He agreed that science’s engagement with the media needed to go further…

It will be interesting to see how the media report our next Face Equality ‘project’ which launches next week – four posters featuring a great bunch of children with disfigurements will be displayed in every station on the London Underground from Monday – you can see them on our website… and I hope feel you want to get involved in the campaign: get more informed about disfigurement and its impact, approach your school or workplace to challenge it to join the campaign, lend your face to our collage in support… go to www.changingfaces.org.uk.

We want to get these posters up all over the country so if you know of any way to do so, please get in touch – and if you want to feature them in your magazine or newspaper, that would be great!

Must fly – to Guernsey with luck!