Doing good

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L-R Jayne Woodley of Oxfordshire Community Foundation, James Partridge, John Nickson

A great evening at the Oxford Union last week! So fascinating to be part of an ancient debating tradition that goes back to Gladstone who was President of the Union in 1830. I stood at the despatch box – opposing the motion – on the same boards as many giants of the political world and wider society of the past 185 years.

It was all done in a very formal process conducted under the watchful eye of Charles Vaughan, the President of the Oxford Union in his white tie and tails.

Those supporting the motion, James Bevan of CCLA, Nigel Mercer, President of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons and Sali Hughes, beauty writer and columnist constructed some formidable arguments to support the spending of money on ‘looking good’.

It has economic value, of course – providing employment for millions of people and much scope for charitable giving to medical research and other good causes. And no-one could dispute that the skills of plastic surgeons can improve a person’s looks… and I, for one, do not object to that provided the patient – or customer – has been given realistic information about the risks and benefits and has been told of other ways of gaining self-esteem.

The debate was really about the balance of society’s spending as Professor Danny Dorling and John Nickson and I tried to explain – and with the certainty that the state will be withdrawing from many areas of civil society in the years ahead, there is a real and urgent need to re-balance our priorities towards ‘doing good’.

There were many examples of how that spending could make a difference – but my one regret is that the nine-minute rule for all speakers prevented us elaborating on why such spending, giving or volunteering can make such a difference.

I am immensely proud of the work of Changing Faces’ staff, volunteers, ambassadors and many other people who have been transforming the lives and future prospects of anyone who experiences a disfigurement as I did years ago from severe burns at the age of 18 – and you can read about most significant impact in the last year on our website. My next blog will cover what we are seeking philanthropy for.

Lastly, a big thank you to my supporters for coming and cheering – and to the Oxfordshire Community Foundation for organising such a treat!

Events in Paris and London today

My heart and prayers go out to everyone in France who are trying to come to terms with last night’s ghastly events in Paris. We at Changing Faces are ready to do anything we can to help those injured and their families and we are with all people who stand for freedom and democracy.

Today, I will be in north London marking 40 years of an amazing service which has its roots in the aftermath of the fight against tyranny and barbarism in the Second World War, and so want to assert strongly that from these atrocities can come seeds of good.

The Skin Camouflage Service was created by the British Red Cross at the request of the Department of Health in 1975. In 1975, a nationwide survey of dermatologists highlighted the psychological and social effect of disfiguring skin conditions. The survey found that, while few skin problems are life-threatening, visible conditions – such as vitiligo, rosacea and scarring – could cause great distress and adversely affect almost every aspect of a person’s life.

Joyce Allsworth was appointed to develop the training – and Joyce was a pioneer in skin camouflage because she had been working with companies like Veil, Covermark, Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden in the 1950s and 60s, and they had been inspired, at least in part it is likely, by Sir Archibald McIndoe, the great plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. The patients he treated in the wake of the Battle of Britain and subsequent warfare came to be known as McIndoe’s Guinea Pigs.

Today the Skin Camouflage Service is an integral part of what Changing Faces offers to help people with any kind of disfigurement – from birthmarks, skin conditions, burns or scarring from accidents and violence – to gain self-confidence and self-esteem.

 

Around 5,000 people a year are referred to the service by dermatologists, GPs, plastic surgeons and others – and are advised by our highly-skilled Skin Camouflage Practitioners about the best cream to use – from 150 options on the NHS prescription list – according to their skin colour, type etc and how to apply it. They can then get a GP to prescribe the product – and the feedback we get is that this can be life-changing for many people. You can find out a lot more on our website.

My hope is that this little bit of history can light a tiny ember of hope into the gloom that last night’s events will inevitably produce.

Being the People’s Choice increases my responsibility

I was almost speechless when in the historic Terrace Room of the House of Commons, the cradle of democracy, with the Thames at high tide just outside, my name was announced as the ‘People’s Choice’ at the Body Confidence Awards 2014. I was convinced that I was there to clap Gok Wan that I wobbled up to the stage to receive it, dazed but delighted.

James with Gok Wan

I was delighted to meet Gok!

It was an important night for everyone who believes that Britain needs to wake up to the brewing crisis around body image in today’s society and ‘be real’ in promoting ‘body confidence’ through all available channels – in the media, in advertising, in schools and in all walks of life.

The Campaign for Body Confidence which organised the Awards is revitalising the campaign and to judge by the winners, there are already many great exemplar projects in motion:

  • The Self Esteem Team delivering tailored body confidence lessons for teenagers ages 13 to 18 as well as parents and teachers
  • Girlguiding developing girls’ body confidence, training up 250 peer educators to deliver their ‘Free Being Me’ programme
  • The Jamie Oliver Foundation for ‘making healthy eating cool’ through focused work with schools and communities
  • Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active programme to raise girls’ participation in PE and sport
  • The Guardian for its Body Image column on the website
  • Lancôme and its partnership with Lupita Nyong’o, a non-Westernised, dark skinned, African American woman, sparking debate around beauty
  • ASOS Curve for its understated, quiet, ongoing campaign to promote confidence of women through their affordable, fashionable clothes that they can feel good in
  • Breast Cancer Care for its brave and honest campaign showing mastectomy scars.

And just before my Award, that guru of the body confidence movement, Susie Orbach was honoured – and Radio 1 DJ Jameela Jamil, Gok Wan, and comedian, Juliette Burton wowed the assembled glittering crowd.

My over-riding sentiment as I left the event was of the enormity of the challenge facing us. Face confidence and body confidence don’t grow on trees. They have to be nurtured and strengthened over years and they often mean that people have to swim against the prevailing cultural tides – which encourage in so many people today unhealthy body image risk-taking.

So I will try hard to live up to the faith put in me by the people who voted for me – and I see that as my responsibility. But it is also the responsibility of the beauty industry itself and of opinion leaders in Parliament and the media to challenge the unhealthy and promote body confidence in all they do.