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!

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