Face Values: Women, Body Image and Facial Differences

Publication Date: 
Resource Origin: 

AboutFace and The Regional Women's Health Centre, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre

Women and girls with facial differences are sisters, daughters, cousins, partners and mothers. They are students, social workers, lawyers, sales clerks, administrators, nurses, receptionists, artists and more. They are women from diverse backgrounds, with diverse interests.

Facial differences can be present at birth (such as cleft lip and palate) or they can be acquired later in life through an accident (such as a burn) or illness (such as cancer). Many women with facial differences lead full, rewarding lives but the challenge associated with having an unusual appearance is the common thread in our experience. The inappropriate questions, the stares of strangers, the cruel remarks that can catch a woman off guard - are all invasions of her private world, and constant reminders that looks often come first, and the person second.

While there has been growing awareness of diversity issues, our society remains very appearance conscious. All forms of media promote a narrow definition of what is considered a desirable or acceptable physical appearance. These images of perfection are often equated with health and success. In this way, physical appearance contributes to the ways in which we are defined. The tension between these trends in society impacts on all people. For many, the ideal is difficult, if not impossible to attain and the struggle ongoing.

At the same time, positive images of facial differences are rare, and there are many misconceptions about what it means to have a facial difference. In fact, any physical difference is often portrayed as a personal affliction or tragedy. The real tragedy is that both our individual talents and common humanity go unrecognized.

It is vital that we begin to learn more about the impact of certain life experiences. From there, we can begin to re-evaluate and find meaning in these experiences. Although there can be serious stresses connected with having a physical difference in today's society, we can develop satisfying images of ourselves. We can also develop an understanding of the positive aspects of living with physical differences.