Does researching disfigurement risk perpetuating stigma?
This chapter’s exploration of the relationship between facial disfigurement, stigma, and the work of research scholars and clinicians, has roots in Changing Faces (the UK-based charity working with and for people affected by disfigurement) where colleagues and clients often have unusual faces, and in psychoanalytic studies, where anything that is tacit, taken for granted, unspoken, unwitting, or unconscious is especially ripe for enquiry. The origin and usage of the term stigma is outlined, along with the mechanisms through which stigma is enacted, both consciously and unconsciously. This clarifies how the stigma associated with facial disfigurement allocates people whose appearance is unusual through whatever cause, to a homogenising, inferior category from which it is difficult to emerge as an individual who is not defined by the outward appearance of their face. Examples reflecting a great deal of already existing research and clinical writing are presented that reveal the prevalence of silence concerning other people’s reactions to persons whose facial appearance is disfigured. The change of perspective that has come with more recent campaigning, research and scholarship from within the disability rights movement is also considered: formerly unmentioned unpleasant and stigmatising reactions of others to a person’s disfigured face are now in the frame. It is argued that, unconsciously, these stigmatising or stigma-perpetuating responses, when unmentioned, are legitimised and perpetuated.
Keywords: stigma; psychoanalysis; unconscious bias; boundaries; exclusion; Changing Faces
Appearing in Approaches to Facial Difference: Past and Present (Bloomsbury: 2018). While you wait, check out other Changing Faces material on our blog.