People with a disfigurement are still being excluded from public life in the UK today with many facing discrimination, isolation and loneliness. That’s according to the charity Changing Faces whose new research reveals that one in three (29%) people say that they feel depressed, sad or anxious as a result of having a visible difference such as a mark or scar.
The report, ‘My Visible Difference’, includes a ComRes survey of over a 1,000 adults with a visible difference across the UK, exploring their experiences across areas such as employment, health and wellbeing, family and relationships.
The charity found that many people with a visible difference are often subject to hostility and abuse in public. Over a third (36%) say they have experienced hostile behaviour because of their visible difference and this often comes from strangers – six in ten (58%) experienced hostile behaviour from someone they did not know. Almost a quarter (23%) say they feel self-conscious or embarrassed going out in public as a result of their visible difference.
When Tulsi was ten years old, she was in a plane crash and sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of her face and body. For years she was bullied about how she looked, which affected her mental health.
“I associated my scars with being ugly and had no self-esteem. I would read about beautiful celebrities and want to be like them. I never felt beautiful. Having a disfigurement means never having a day off. I don’t get to take my scars off and forget about them. Every day when I leave my house I need to check in with myself to see how I am going to handle the stare or comments.”
The charity says that while there have been some positive changes in the world of work finding a job when you ‘look different’ still isn’t easy. Over a third of people (36%) say they have been discriminated against in job applications because of their appearance. For those who have a job, a third (34%) say that their employers have not been effective in preventing discrimination against them. Only a quarter (25%) of people with a visible difference form friendships or relationships through school, education or work.
When Julie was 14 years old, all her hair fell out in just a few short weeks due to alopecia. Now 35, she says the condition has had a profound impact on her career.
“I worked very hard to blend in and not be noticed. That’s really career limiting. By the time I realised I was doing this, I had missed so many opportunities career wise. I never believed in myself enough to put myself out there and talk about what I could do. I know I’ve held myself back, underselling myself.”
The report is being launched on Face Equality Day – the UK’s only campaign to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally whatever the appearance of their face or body.
Changing Faces CEO Becky Hewitt says: “People with a visible difference deserve to live the life they want, but are still facing multiple challenges. They are vulnerable to isolation, loneliness, social anxiety and low self-esteem. They face staring, harassment, bullying and hate crime.
“We need to act now to challenge stigma and prejudice, achieve better representation for people with visible differences across the media and in brand campaigns, and increase awareness and education across schools, workplaces and amongst the general public.”
The research reveals that two-thirds of people (64%) do not think visible differences are represented well in adverts and over 40% of people with a visible difference agreed they would be more likely to spend their money on brands that had better representation. Changing Faces have launched a new campaign calling on brands to feature more people with a visible difference called #PledgeToBeSeen. Avon is the first to sign up and feature models with a visible difference in their campaigns and the charity want many more to follow their lead.
Changing Faces is also calling on all employers to tackle appearance-related discrimination in the workplace and provide training for staff. The charity, which provides counselling and wellbeing support, is also launching new self-help guides for anyone with a visible difference.
Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for everyone who has a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different. For over 25 years they have been providing advice and support, challenging discrimination, and campaigning for a world that respects difference.
According to research conducted by ComRes amongst the general public across the UK, 18% of people self-identify as having a visible difference such as a mark, scar or condition.
The Changing Faces report, My Visible Difference, is based on new research conducted by ComRes. It provides a unique insight into the lives of over a thousand adults with a visible difference, exploring their experiences across areas such as employment, health and wellbeing, family and relationships. These findings are reinforced with the experiences that people with a visible difference have shared with Changing Faces.
ComRes interviewed 1,037 people with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different online between 7th and 16th March 2019. Data were weighted to be representative of those with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different by age, gender and region. This weighting scheme was sourced from a nationally representative public omnibus survey run between the 22nd and 24th March 2019. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
The impact of having a visible difference on people’s lives:
Health and wellbeing
- One in three (29%) people say that they feel depressed, sad or anxious as a result of having a visible difference
- Almost a quarter (23%) say they feel self-conscious or embarrassed going out in public as a result of their visible difference
- Over a third (36%) of people say they have experienced hostile behaviour because of their visible difference
- Six in ten people (58%) have experienced hostile behaviour from strangers
Family and friends
- Three quarters (74%) of people feel well supported by friends and family about their feelings regarding their visible difference and two-thirds regularly speak to them about it (67%)
- Around a quarter of people (23%) say that they feel isolated from friends and family because of their visible difference
- Over 40% say their family do not understand how they feel about their visible difference
Discrimination in the workplace
- Over a third of people (36%) say they have been discriminated against in job applications because of their appearance
- A quarter of people say they have been stared at in the workplace because of their visible difference
- A third (34%) of those who have a job say that their employers have not been effective in preventing discrimination against them in the workplace
The consumer experience
- Two-thirds of people (64%) do not think visible differences are represented well in adverts
- Over half (54%) say that people with visible differences are regularly ignored by brands
- Over a quarter of people say they are regularly ignored by shop assistants (27%) and receive bad service because of their visible difference (26%)
Julie, age 35, Alopecia
“My parents have always been amazing; I’m so grateful for that”
When Julie was 14 years old, all her hair fell out in just a few short weeks due to alopecia. Now 35, she told us about the profound impact the condition has had on her.
“Alopecia shaped my life in a lot of ways. For a long time, I didn’t really deal with how much it was affecting me – it damaged my self esteem in a big way and it’s only now with hindsight that I can see that that affected every part of my life from career choices to relationships with friends and family. I spent so much time and energy trying to hide my difference that it became a kind of obsession, which was really energy draining.
“It’s not really about the hair; it’s about the emotional impact of it – learning to accept the lack of control, coping with stares and questions, finding a way to feel feminine, beautiful, loved.
“Losing my hair damaged my self-esteem to such a degree that I lost a huge amount of my confident, unstoppable personality. I didn’t want to stand out, I worked very hard to blend in and not be noticed. That’s really career limiting. By the time I realised I was doing this, I had missed so many opportunities career wise.
“I never believed in myself enough to put myself out there and talk about what I could do and had delivered at work. I spent far too much of every day worrying about hiding patches of hair to be able to fully engage with what I was doing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done fine career wise but I know I’ve held myself back underselling myself and not believing in myself.
“My parents have always been amazing and I am very grateful for that. They sacrificed things financially so they could buy me natural wigs that would allow me to blend in and to pay for micro-bladed brows when I was a teenager. They answered the questions people asked so I didn’t have to, and most of all they listened and loved me.
“My husband has never made it an issue and he’s done some things that he would admit were not the easiest like shaving my head for me. He views my ever changing hair choices a bit like which t-shirt I’ve chosen to wear that day.
“My children see me with a different hairstyle every day of the week, it doesn’t change who I am and hopefully they have seen that I am in no way limited by looking different to other mummies. The wonderful thing is that they and all their friends know what alopecia is and it is completely normal to them.”
ComRes interviewed 2,090 UK adults online between 22nd – 24th March 2019. Data were weighted to be representative of UK adults by age, gender, region and socio-economic grade. Full data tables can be found at www.comresglobal.com in the ‘published polls’ section.