Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Danka Tamburic, Professor in Cosmetic Science at the London College of Fashion because she is hosting a fascinating Symposium in April, Skin: The ultimate interface, to which I will be contributing with Henrietta Spalding. Our title is ‘Changing Faces: from stigma to face equality’.
The meeting was brought about through the good offices of my old friend, Emeritus Professor Terence Ryan. I met him more than twenty years ago when he was a professor at Oxford University and a highly-respected consultant dermatologist – and there we were discussing skin and the stigma of disfigurement in a fashion college! But no ordinary fashion college – one which has laboratories where students and researchers study the chemistry of skin creams and used to have the Rev Joanna Jepson as its first Rector of Fashion.
Joanna – with whom I have not always agreed! – has written a powerful book called Fashion, Faith and Fig-Leaves: a Memoir, in which she describes her journey in faith and how her rare facial condition affected so much of her adolescence. She became isolated and introverted – and then she risked major maxilla-facial surgery on her chin, teeth and mouth. Which, in her case, was transformational.
Henrietta has also written a brilliant book about her facial paralysis with Professor Jonathan Cole, a neurophysiologist, called The Invisible Smile about life with Moebius Syndrome. It’s a condition which no amount of surgery can change significantly.
It was 45 years on Friday since I looked in the mirror for the first time after fire had severely damaged my face. I knew in that mirror moment that I was a marked man – stigmatised by my scars and disfigurement. Five years of brilliant reconstructive surgery produced my unusual face as it is today. As good as it could get. Contrary to popular belief – myth – that’s it.
Last week too, I read a fascinating article about ‘How long until we can print human faces in the lab?’. The idea that your own stem cells could be used to manufacture a new face if your face is damaged as mine was is still decades away, I suspect, but it might be possible.
Until that happens and such treatment is widely available – and of course, it will not touch many other causes, like facial paralysis – we must tackle the stigma of disfigurement every day in every setting. That’s what Henrietta and I will be saying – and that’s what the campaign for face equality is all about. Join us!