I had a truly beautiful weekend – at a beautifully choreographed wedding in a beautiful setting with family and friends all gathered to celebrate…
… but getting back to reality, today sees the start of a Channel 4 six-part factual TV series called ‘Beauty and the Beast: the Ugly Face of Prejudice’. In each programme, someone with a beauty obsession lives with someone with a facial disfigurement. In a prime time slot, 8pm, this should certainly allow some of the myths around disfigurement – and the beauty culture – to be exposed to public scrutiny… so it will be interesting to see the viewing figures – will people watch?
I hope so because whilst we at Changing Faces have had no editorial control over the programmes, we have contributed to them and they do reveal how extraordinarily strong the power of the beauty trap is and how that impinges on the mind-sets of those with disfigurements too.
Although there is less attention on the contributors with disfigurements their six stories demonstrate in unequivocal terms that having an unusual or noticeably-different face invites prejudice and discrimination every single day in today’s society – and this is replicated for thousands of people throughout British society.
Yesterday, I was in Belfast at Stormont for the launch of the Face Equality campaign in Northern Ireland – and there were many stories that confirmed not only that disfigurement can happen to anyone at any age any day, and there are many causes – from birth, accident, cancer treatment, skin or eye conditions or facial paralysis. What was reported to the assembled politicians, policy makers, HR directors, health professionals and PR specialists was that people with disfigurements or their parents how hard it is to live in a society where disfigurement prejudice happens daily and unwittingly in many discriminating ways – including at work – which often amount to harassment and intrusion.
Here are just a few examples: a grand-parent told how she and her daughter had heard some fellow diners in a restaurant ask to be moved so that they didn’t need to look at the child who had a birthmark.
A woman in her thirties who’d had serious car accident: “I get stared at wherever I go – and I fear meeting people I used to know because I dread their questions, sympathy or comments – or their turning away”… and “It wasn’t until I left my little friendly village primary to go to the big secondary that I discovered how horrid people could be”.
But we also heard a very honest plastic surgeon break through the veneer of assumption about what surgery can do: “Surgery is popularly seen as the solution but it’s not just about surgery – people need help psychologically to adjust and socially to adapt”.
I hope the Channel 4 series will help people become much more aware of the prejudice that is perpetuated in culture, seemingly unwittingly. Let me know what you think…