How to deal with disfigurement

Over the Christmas holidays in 2014, I developed an infection on my face that produced angry sores. This attracted unwanted looks and stares when I went out in public. This got me thinking about the people who live daily with disfigurement to the face or body.

According to Changing Faces, a charity that helps people living with visible difference, there are 1.3 million people in the UK affected by disfigurement to their face and body.

Although my sores were temporary, they gave me an insight into what it must be like to live with a disfigurement. People, particularly children stared, adults did a double take.

While I am in no way comparing my situation with someone who lives with disfigurement, it made me consider how they deal with the looks and comments.

During my facial infection, wearing make-up wasn’t an option to camouflage the sores. I’ve worked hard on my body image for years; I wasn’t about to let a few sores stop me from enjoying the activities I planned for the holidays.

These are the strategies I used to deal with my (albeit temporary) ‘visible difference’:

Understand the reactions of others

When you understand what motivates people to stare at visible difference, it makes it easier to deal with. People are naturally curious, especially when they see or experience something new. I knew people were staring because they wanted to understand what happened to my face. There will always be a small minority who will be rude or make unpleasant comments, but for the most part people seek to understand. This is a perfectly natural part of what makes us human.

Reassure yourself

Visible difference does not define you. It has no impact on who you are as a person. Reassuring yourself of this fact will help you deal with the reactions of others. I told myself that no matter what my face looked like, I was the same person on the inside and nothing about my appearance could change that.

Distract yourself

When you find yourself in situations where the curious looks become too much, change your focus to something else. Doing this will help distract you from unwanted glances. I focussed mindfully on the activities I was doing: shopping, ice-skating, enjoying a drink in a pub with my hubbie and not the actions of the people around me.

The charity Changing Faces has produced some great guidance on interacting with others if you have a visible difference. You can access the guidance here.

Although I didn’t use all the strategies suggested by Changing Faces, I thought the following were also worthy of mention:

Explain your condition

If you have a visible difference that is drawing curious stares or comments from others, one way to deal with this is simply to explain what it is, for example, “I have _. It makes my face look different, but I’m just the same as anyone else.” Taking this step alleviates the natural curiosity that created the interest in the first place.

Be assertive

If you find the looks or comments of others offensive, you can assert yourself. This may mean that you walk away from the situation, or make an assertive statement such as, “Please stop staring at me, it’s rude” or “I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

Use humour

Humour can be used to lighten a situation or put someone in their place. If you find someone is staring too much, you might say, “You must find me really interesting!” This may open up a dialogue about your condition, illicit an apology or make the other person think twice about staring in future!

If you live with a visible difference that makes you anxious or upset, you can access resources, help and support from Changing Faces. There is no need to deal with it on your own – with the right guidance and support you can live a happy and confident life. Remember that you are not an object to be looked at, and you are NOT defined by your appearance.

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