Although over half a million people live with facial disfigurements in the UK, the extent of discrimination against people with facial disfigurement is not known. A condition that affects one in 111 people in this country is basically unstudied in terms of its effect. This is a travesty and needs to be addressed. There is some data, some of it is very old and most of it is not very detailed. This article will discuss what is available.
Nearly everybody with a significant facial disfigurement will tell you that they have experienced discrimination of some form at some time. From sideways glances on public transport to being abused by strangers, many people with a facial disfigurement will have had some very upsetting experiences. While it can be good to open up and hear other people’s experiences individually, the amount of research that has been carried out over large populations is startlingly small. Anecdotal evidence is only so useful for establishing how prevalent discrimination is.
Changing faces research
The charity Changing Faces published in 2017 some ground-breaking research: Disfigurement in the UK. They asked 800 people about their experience of having facial disfigurements. They looked at school lives, work, relationships, crime, and healthcare. Surprisingly, this was the first time that this kind of research had been carried out in the UK.
The results were startling. 92% of people reported that they had endured unwanted and unpleasant comments when they used online dating apps or forums. In our modern world, many romantic relationships are formed online. Harassment suffered by people with facial disfigurements online has dissuaded many of them from engaging and the consequences are clear. People with facial disfigurements face much greater difficulties finding love in our modern, “open” societies.
The research went further. They found that half of the people with facial disfigurements had experienced bullying and harassment that impacted on their decisions to go into higher education after school. Modern Life requires higher education in order to be successful, or so it seems. By crushing the educational aspirations of so many young people, discrimination has not only limited there future earnings, educational achievements, access to culture, and enjoyable experiences of people with facial disfigurements, but it is deprived us of them. The cost of this is astronomical to everyone, as the research indicates. Fully half of the people who took part in the research reported that they thought their condition had limited their career. Discrimination against people with facial disfigurements is condemning them in some cases to poverty, and almost certainly to misery.
Discrimination goes deep
It is not just the active discrimination, harassment, and bullying that people with facial disfigurements suffer that impacts them. Teachers, classmates, and other individuals can expect less from people with facial disfigurements. This behaviour is rarely challenged. Even when it is confronted, most people find that nothing is done about it or it is not taken seriously. This leads people with facial disfigurements not to challenge these behaviours and it can lead to a lack of aspiration that causes them to not aim as high as their peers. Combined with active discrimination, this is a perfect storm of lower achievements and everything that comes with it.
People in the research reported that it was difficult not to become resigned to their fate. When their peers, their teachers, and the authorities refuse to take this form of discrimination seriously, it can take an enormous amount of effort and skill to pull yourself up and do it yourself. After what is sometimes a lifetime of discrimination, many people with facial disfigurements do not find themselves able to do this. It is a tragedy of untold magnitude.
Fair and equal society
The UK has made enormous leaps and bounds in the representation of minorities with disabilities. However, facial disfigurement is an often-overlooked area. It is not a particularly “romantic” topic. Work by actors and journalists such as Adam Pearson have in recent years brought a great deal of attention to this issue, however, the media is still full of discrimination on the basis of appearance. People with facial disfigurements feel left behind and unsupported in their efforts to live normal and happy lives, as is their right.
Through a combination of inattention, stigma, and discrimination, facial disfigurements are a relatively unknown quantity in the UK. The public is very willing to dismiss people on the basis of appearance and this needs to change. In recent years, awareness campaigns have achieved some success, but the 2017 research from Changing Faces shows that it has not been enough. When half of the people with facial disfigurements are not even getting the opportunities to achieve what they might because of discrimination and harassment, the time has come to change.