The start of the 2016 Rio Paralympics reminds me of a comment made by James Partridge, CEO of Changing Faces on the impact of the previous games: ‘2012 did nothing for us’. His point was that whilst the increased media coverage and visibility of bodily difference, missing limbs and prosthetic replacements normalised these in the public eye, facial difference (if not accompanied by another physical impairment) remained a hidden source of disability and discrimination. Interestingly, campaigner Victoria Wright, herself living with cherubism, did not highlight the gulf between these two issues in her assessment of the 2012 Paralympics, written for The Independent, although she is a vocal advocate for CF and the work that it does (see her recent work on Channel 4’s ‘No-Go Britain’ campaign).
But perhaps James was looking in the wrong place: facially-different but otherwise able-bodied competitors have been prominent in the 2016 Rio Olympics over the past three weeks, sporting face protectors for broken noses and cheekbones, eye-patches for sight impediments (Fiona Bigwood, equestrian) and wigs (Joanna Rowsell Shand, but only when doing media appearances). Yet they have still had to tell their ‘stories’ to explain their appearance. Wright’s call to advertisers to improve the diversity of the role models they use, however, has at least begun borne fruit in the current L’Oreal campaign for its True Match foundation campaign, which features Katie Piper, and Channel 5’s Real Lives strand, featuring cancer survivor Dan in a slot where an advert might have run (with links to support networks). More please!