One of the organisations that helped when I was writing Body Brilliant was Changing Faces. This is a wonderful charity which supports people with visible difference not just of the face but any part of the body. Changing Faces helped me give sensitive, nuanced coverage of a topic that I don’t have much direct experience of.
When I say I don’t have “much” experience, I do have a very tiny insight from my own life. I realise that this experience is not in the same league as the ones that Changing Faces supports but: many years ago I had major maxillofacial (jaw) surgery because my temporomandibular joint on one side was worn away by arthritis. The arthritis was caused by what a dentist had previously rather unhelpfully described as a jaw “deformity”.
This surgery was to deal with a destroyed joint, not my appearance – although, yes, my jaw was visibly lop-sided – but it did change my appearance. It didn’t make it better or worse, just different. Not dramatically – and this is why I describe this as only a tiny insight into facial difference – but enough that I noticed very much indeed and felt that I’d somehow been changed as a person by the change in my face. I was very self-conscious, and had been ever since that dentist had pointed out my “deformity”. I understand that he was simply being accurate: my jaw was wrongly formed.
Anyway, today is Face Equality Day and Changing Faces invited me to an event to launch a new report. Sadly, I can’t go to the event, but I can shout about Face Equality Day.
Here’s what they say:
“Face Equality Day is a special day of celebration and action, which helps to celebrate our community, give a voice to more people with a visible difference, and to change people’s perceptions about ‘looking different’.
“Our theme this year will focus on adults with a visible difference, who will lead our celebrations from start to finish. Millions of adults with a visible difference tell us they feel excluded from public life, often facing loneliness, isolation, and even hostility.
“Having a disfigurement means never having a day off. I don’t get to take my scars off and forget about them.”
Changing Faces’ Champion, Tulsi, a burns survivor
“Based on an in-depth survey of over 1000 adults with a visible difference, our new report will examine the impact of disfigurement on employment, health and wellbeing, relationships and social life.”
Someone else who generously contributed her own experience and viewpoint to Body Brilliant was Jen Campbell, who is an author, poet, and many other things but who, relevantly to this topic, campaigns, writes and speaks about representation of disfigurement (her word) and diversity in the media. You can find her YouTube videos on that here.
The Changing Faces website is fantastic and I believe everyone should read the stories on it and try to gain as much insight as possible into what it’s like to experience living with visible difference and how we can become more inclusive and empathetic as a society made of billions of people who all look different. Because humans are all different.
Body Brilliant aims to play its part in getting us all to look beyond outward appearance and into character, actions and ambitions.
We need to see and hear – I think hearing is even more important – every type of person, not just on our streets but in our media, our books, everywhere. We’re all different but all equal. My personal insight is tiny and doesn’t really equip me to know enough. Changing Faces has helped me know more. What I think I’ve learnt most of all is that it’s not my words that count for anything: it’s the words and experiences of people who live with profound visible difference. That’s what I want to hear more of.
That’s what Changing Faces does.