Face equality is also about thinking positively about unusual faces

Too much of the last month of my life has been taken up challenging the negative stereotyping of people with disfigurements that is still so prevalent in today’s culture (including in children’s games like Moshi Monsters) – and it has been heavy going as is explained in the footnote below….

But, thankfully, on Wednesday I was reminded that there are two sides to our campaign for face equality: not just challenging the negative but promoting the positive: that, contrary to popular mythology, people with unusual faces can and do live happy, confident, family-full lives contributing much to our society.

I am a commuter cyclist in London. It’s a dangerous method but there are lots of benefits as increasing numbers are finding, even in the wettest of winters. You get exercise, get to your destination in a predictable time and quicker than most other methods – and it’s cheaper too.

Perhaps best of all, there is a camaraderie amongst cyclists that I much enjoy – helping each other out, remarking on near-misses and being (on the whole) very courteous to each other, even if there are other road-users who treat us with less respect. But I digress!

Not surprisingly, I am easily drawn to stories about cycling – and on Wednesday evening, I spotted one by the BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Matt McGrath: “Faster cyclists are more attractive, study says” read the headline – and I hesitated because the media have an unnecessary tendency to use the word ‘attractive’ to mean beautiful.

But I read on and it was a sensible and interesting piece about what sounds like a fascinating study… But I couldn’t help myself reacting to the title so tweeted twice:

@BBCNews Science: humans may have evolved to recognise athleticism in faces; Media: faster cyclists more attractive

@BBCNews Reality? Humans interested in survival (of the fittest) cycle slowly; attractiveness comes from face, personality, skill, chemistry

But I think I should explain myself now! I was trying to make two points:

  • What the study suggested was that women’s assessment of men’s facial characteristics when shown photographs of them was a good proxy for athletic performance, stamina and endurance. In other words, women have evolved a clever shortcut to finding the ‘fittest’ (ie: most athletic) mate: check out how attractive you find a man’s face. Which is not quite what the headline says.
  • And it might seem very discouraging if you have a facial disfigurement like me. But in my view, it shouldn’t. Because my understanding is that other research has also shown two other things: first, that photographs are rarely good indicators of how attractive people are in real life. And second, that people are much more influenced when meeting someone by their gestures and body language, the quality of their eye contact, their personality, how they speak and what they say than by their facial features.

So thank you, Matt McGrath, for reminding me to keep making the point. The look of a person’s face does not and should not determine their future – unless they and we are trapped in the prevailing stereotype: ‘good looks are passports to success, not-such-good looks to failure’. Nonsense!

Footnote: For those who are not aware of Changing Faces’ latest campaign called “Don’t call me Freakface”, briefly, it aims to persuade Mind Candy and its stubborn boss, Michael Acton Smith OBE, to change the names (like Freakface) and descriptions of the baddies (like “icky one-eyed blob of badness”) in the company’s Moshi Monsters game played by over 70m young children worldwide.

These words are so offensive and potentially harmful. Actions make people or characters evil not scars, marks or asymmetric features. I don’t want to linger on the argument here – please see my previous blog, our website and our second media release on 28.1.14 – http://bit.ly/1dQBRiG


Me on a fundraising bike ride with Changing Faces’ Head of Operational Support, Christine Muskett