How the media played a role in the negative perception of facial differences

How the media played a role in the negative perception of facial differences
The movie "Mask", directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Seen here from left, Cher (as Florence 'Rusty' Dennis) and Eric Stoltz (as Roy L. 'Rocky' Dennis). Initial theatrical limited release March 8, 1985. Screen capture. Copyright © 1985 Universal City Studios, Inc. Credit: © 1985 Universal Studios / Courtesy: Pyxurz.


Article by Vanessa Carter
Facial difference and MRSA
e-Patient Scholar in South Africa


How the media played a role in the negative perception of facial differences

Your face is the part of your body that contributes largely to your identity and the way that you and others perceive you. External appearance can betray our neurological judgement and distort our perception of the deeper individual. In psychology, physical appearance is believed to model stereotypes as to a person’s personality without him/her ever having to speak or move.

Facial differences are an area of disability which have been neglected in the past. There are many contributing factors, some include religion, culture, lack of education or simple ignorance, it depends on the demographic and country. There are many facial differences that can be corrected with surgery like cleft lip and palate, but some of the more severe conditions can be permanent as well as life-threatening.

The term facial difference, whilst under review as a politically-correct medical term, is caused by a broad range of conditions including Cancer, craniofacial and genetic anomalies, burns, rare diseases and trauma including car accidents and dog bites. A comprehensive list of Facial Difference conditions is available on About Face, USA.

In a 2014 study, Hartley and colleagues at the University of York reported that impressions of the traits of approachability, youthfulness, attractiveness and dominance can be formed in as little as 100 milliseconds, from measurable characteristics such as the shape of the face as well as spacing around the eyes, nose and mouth. It was found that first impressions of social traits, such as trustworthiness or dominance are reliably perceived in faces. Physical facial features were measured from feature positions and colours. A neural network was then used to model factor the dimensions of approachability, youthful-attractiveness and dominance. 58% of the variance in raters’ impressions was accounted for by a linear model. [1]  Faces are central to all human social interactions, yet their study has been much overlooked by disability scholars and historians of medicine alike. [2]

In an attempt to remodel society’s perception of facial differences and beauty, the fashion industry has recently taken up the challenge to include individuals in media campaigns like these with Chantelle Winnie, a Diesel model who has Vitiligo. This has been crucial to exposing the public to diverse appearances which helps them to accept disfigurement more readily.

We’ve been exposed to facial differences for longer than we know, in fact, 35 years ago, in the 1980’s you might recall a movie called “Mask”, it starred Eric Stoltz and Cher and it was about a teenage boy called Roy Lee Dennis (Rocky) who had a serious facial difference caused by Craniodiaphyseal Dysplasia (Lionitis). On a daily basis, he faced immense discrimination and bullying because he “looked weird” to others. Even the principal suggested that he should be educated in a special needs environment, however, Rocky’s intelligence was superior when compared to some of his peers. In this video clip, in Rocky’s words “I look pretty weird, but I’m actually pretty normal” is a good way to explain the barriers facial difference individuals experience daily. Some individuals are unable to leave their homes and choose to live in isolation. In some developing countries, especially in Africa, patients with a disfigurement are often condemned because of spiritual beliefs.


Video credit: Mask (1/10) Movie CLIP – School Registration (1985) HD

The world is moving into a new era and evolving into a more inclusive society, hopefully, in terms of equal opportunity. We should seek out a deeper understanding of each other and appreciate that we all add value. Superficial circumstances like a visible or invisible disability shouldn’t define our place during the 21st-Century. How can the media play a role in achieving that goal?

References: [1] The First Impression Psychology [2] Approaching Facial Difference, Bloomsbury Academic Series: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Human Face


DIGITAL HEALTH ACTIVIST IN SOUTH AFRICA Vanessa is a design thinker and entrepreneur with 20 years in advertising and 10 years of patient experience in the private and public health sector in South Africa due to a face reconstruction. She is an international ePatient speaker and a digital health activist. She is the founder of #hcsmSA (Health Care Social Media South Africa), which is a geographic community she hopes will connect all aspects of healthcare on one central database. Connecting health virtually can improve networking, genomics data, education, access to treatment, online participation, problem solving and innovation. Vanessa was a creative director for Artext, a branding company which she established in 1997. Artext were nominated in the top 25 entrepreneurs at the National Small Business Chamber of Commerce (NSBC) in 2013. Vanessa believes that small business shouldn't be underestimated in the growth of the economy and that an "underdog" driven by passion and vision can accomplish anything. She was awarded the Woman of Substance, Woman of the Year Award in 2015 for her commitment to female entrepreneurship, community work and digital health activism. - Member of the HelloHealthcare Network - Primary Healthcare Providers in South Africa - International Ambassador, Video Judge and Speaker for Doctors 2.0 & You, Paris (Associated to Stanford University - MedX) - Honorary Ambassador for Doctor Gratis - First African Digital Health Activist in #TheWalkingGallery of healthcare in Washington D.C. Her Jacket is called Reconcilliation and represents equality in healthcare through Participatory Medicine. - Awarded a Scholarship in 2015 from the Society for Participatory Medicine (S4PM) in recognition of her articles. - Member of the Society for Participatory Medicine - P4 Medicine - First South African ePatient to moderate a global health tweetchat