The British public is much more aware and tolerant of facial disfigurements these days, however, people with facial disfigurements may still face discrimination at school, in the workplace, and anywhere they go with other people. Comprehensive research into the effects of facial disfigurement discrimination is limited, but the existing research and anecdotal evidence indicate the effects can be severe.
Children can be as cruel as adults, if not more so because of their relative ignorance. Young minds are designed to look for differences, and while they are figuring out what is considered normal and what might not be, they can behave in very harmful ways to others. Very often children with facial disfigurements find themselves victims of bullying and discrimination coming not only from the children but from school staff as well. Children are sometimes physically attacked for their appearance.
Verbal harassment may be commonplace and unconscious biases against “different” children is startlingly and frustratingly common. The toll of childhood bullying is astronomical, effects can be much worse than other forms of abuse, but they are not taken nearly as seriously. By bullying children with facial disfigurements, it can reduce their quality of life, aspirations, and achievements in later life in a way it is hard to fathom.
The charity Changing Faces, which has done some groundbreaking research on the effect of discrimination against people with facial disfigurements, has found that 4/5 of people with facial disfigurements have experienced harassment at some time in their life. That is considerably more than LGBT individuals, but there is much less attention drawn to it.
The research, which involved 800 people, showed that 92% of people with facial disfigurements had endured unwanted and unpleasant comments while dating online. Because many relationships are now formed online, excluding people because of their facial appearance means many people with facial disfigurement worry about a life of loneliness because they feel they cannot connect with other people without enduring harassment or discrimination. On the very basis of physical appearance alone, we are condemning more than half a million people in the UK to shorter and more unhappy lives.
In Education and Employment
Half of all people in the study said that the bullying and harassment they experienced during school and college had negatively impacted their decision to remain in education after leaving school. It is difficult to find another factor that can so severely impact somebody’s potential for success in life. Academic achievement and education are directly correlated with your physical and mental wellbeing in later life; it is clear that the discrimination that people with facial disability disfigurements might endure has an under-underreported and shockingly high impact.
It is not just bullying and harassment that results in lower educational achievement and aspiration for many people with facial disfigurements; many people in the studies reported that in work and personal relationships, people had lower expectations of them than for people without facial disfigurements. Without the encouragement and aspirational drive that comes from a positive working or personal relationship, it is difficult to see how many people with facial disfigurements can improve their lives and achieve the academic achievements that they want and so desperately need.
The study highlighted that the effect of this combination of harassment, bullying, and lower expectations leads to a sense of resignation amongst the disfigured. This can lead to such behaviours not being challenged and therefore allowed to propagate and continue. Even when the authorities are alerted to such behaviours, the people in the studies reported that they usually failed to stand up to it or deal with it effectively, even when they were made aware of it. This is largely to do with people not understanding the severity of discrimination. Not many people understand just how much suffering can be caused by this form of discrimination, and it has been difficult for charities to raise awareness in a way that other disabilities and factors like child abuse have been able to do so, even though the effects are often the same or more severe.
A Grim Picture
Bullying and harassment during childhood is one of the clearest deciding factors in whether somebody has a healthy and enjoyable adult life, not to mention the misery that they suffered as children. People who are bullied have statistically shorter lives, achieve less academically, earn less overall, find difficulty having relationships, suffer from more illness, and are more likely to abuse drugs and even take their own lives. Add this to the unconscious and conscious discrimination against people with facial disfigurements, and we have a very grim picture of the state of facial disfigurement acceptance in the UK. Awareness campaigns appear to have had some success in reducing stigma and harassment, and treatments are always improving for facial disfigurement, but in the short term at least, the outlook remains bleak for many.