FACES joins global movement to urge Media to take care with language, tone, and imagery when covering disfigurement

A new International Media Standard on Disfigurement has been launched today [February 5, 2020] by FACES: The National Craniofacial Association and 33 other NGO members of Face Equality International (FEI), the global alliance representing people with facial disfigurements. Formed 12 months ago, FEI’s first major priority was to produce internationally-applicable standards for the media and broadcasters.

The new Standard is designed both to guide best practice in reporting on the lives and issues experienced by people with facial differences and to prevent misrepresentation, stereotyping, and prejudice.

People with facial differences and disfigurements are far too often described in the written and broadcast media in negative, over-stated, or outdated terms such as ‘horribly disfigured’ or ‘scarred for life’. A recent example from the UK’s Daily Mirror in a world news story was headlined ‘Disabled girl banned from nursery as her ‘deformed skull will scare other kids.

People with disfigurements are also often portrayed as objects of pity and sympathy. A story in the USA about a woman whose face transplant is liable to fail was entitled: ‘Her body is rejecting a transplanted face — and one solution is unthinkable’ as though having a facial disfigurement is ‘unthinkable’. 

Recent examples of broadcast incidents include the US presenter Wendy Williams mocking actor Joaquin Phoenix and his cleft lip by tugging on her own lip and referring to him as 'oddly attractive'.

FEI members speak of people experiencing endemic low self-esteem in the global ‘look-perfect’ culture, social isolation, ridicule, staring, bullying, and low expectations in school accompanied by discrimination in the workplace and abuse online. In many countries, disfigurement goes hand in hand with poverty, prejudice, and exclusion. Much of this can be perpetuated by poor media reporting and uninformed broadcast coverage.

Members also believe that more often than not, media reporting is unintentionally thoughtless or uninformed rather than malicious, and reporters are happy to co-operate when offered guidance. This is why the FACES and the alliance want to work closely with media professionals to support them in thoughtful reporting.

The International Media Standard on Disfigurement is the result of the alliance working closely with media professionals, journalists, and its member networks over the past months to create a benchmark that tackles any uncertainty or awkwardness around how to portray, describe, and depict people with facial differences in the public eye.

In an effort to encourage respectful, responsible journalism and broadcasting, the alliance wants to support professionals in getting it right, without having to publicly denounce them. The Standard has been thoroughly user-tested by member’s staff, volunteers, and users with the intention of counteracting stigma, while giving a voice to those who often get overlooked, and showing what it’s really like to look different in a globalized media culture.

James Partridge, founder and Director of Face Equality International, says:

“The media is frequently fascinated by stories about children and adults who, like me, have distinctive faces but the way we are described — in headlines, pictures, films and words — needs to be thought about much more carefully than at present. Too often stories that could usefully inform the public are distorted by words like ‘deformed’ or by implications that the person concerned dislikes their face. Many media organizations do get it right, but not as often as they could. We want to work with media professionals, agencies, and organizations to support them in getting it right every time.”

Geoff Adams-Spink, former BBC journalist and disability consultant says:

“Having worked with media organizations in many countries, I know that journalists often find reporting about people with facial disfigurements very difficult — what language to use, how to describe the conditions, what photos to use and how to headline articles. They don’t like unwittingly getting things wrong or not quite getting it right despite wanting to do so. I am delighted to see the publication of International Media Standard on Disfigurement — it is concise and pragmatic and I hope it will be widely used.”

More information on Face Equality International can be found at faceequalityinternational.org


FACES is proud to be a founding member in the global alliance to promote Face Equality

New global alliance to promote face equality and stamp out disfigurement discrimination

A new organization, Face Equality International, being launched today is a unique alliance of charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which want to see the campaign for ‘face equality’ become a global movement. It will build on the success of the campaign in the UK and Taiwan so as to transform the lives of people with facial differences or disfigurements around the world.

Face Equality International is the brainchild of James Partridge, the founder and former CEO of the UK charity Changing Faces. He says that disfigurement is a neglected global human rights issue: “Wherever they live in the world, people with disfigurements — whether from cleft lips and palates, birthmarks, burns, acid violence, facial paralysis like Bell’s palsy, skin conditions such as psoriasis and vitiligo or after facial cancer — have to deal with many psychological, social and economic challenges in living confident, successful lives in the 21st century.”

An influential group of founding charities and NGOs — including the Sunshine Welfare Foundation in Taiwan, Smile Train, the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and FACES in the US, AboutFace in Canada, the European Cleft Organization in the Netherlands, the Smile Foundation in South Africa and Changing Faces in the UK — are committed to creating a world in which people with disfigurements are fully accepted and valued as equal citizens.

Partridge whose face was severely burned in a car accident when he was 18 said:
“All the founding NGOs know from their members that having a facial difference can mean someone is isolated and friendless, facing bullying, ridicule and staring in public, low expectations in school, problems getting work and harassment in the workplace, abuse on social media and stereotyping in the media.

“Much more evidence of these experiences needs to be collected and brought to public attention — as was done by the UK charity Changing Faces in its 2017 survey of 800 adults (www.changingfaces.org.uk/campaigns/dituk). The roots of the stigma of disfigurement lie deep in the unconscious beliefs of global culture about ‘looking perfect’ being a passport to success, about how scars and asymmetry are associated with villainy, and about the power of modern surgery. The stigma can be self-imposed too with low expectations and lack of ambition leading to a resignation that this is how things will always be.”
Face Equality International will challenge such unfairness and discrimination by mobilizing NGOs around the world and sharing the lessons of how to advocate for face equality effectively — such as awareness-raising initiatives with teachers, culture and business people, and ripostes to everyday incidents of facial prejudice in the media.

The alliance will also campaign for people with disfigurements around the world to be properly protected by law from facial discrimination however it is experienced — in workplaces, on social media, in schools or public places.
The founders hope the alliance will attract and mobilize many NGOs and charities to join the campaign for a global culture in which everyone with a facial difference is valued in their societies for the unique contribution that they can make and is treated equally and with high expectations like everyone else.


Lynne Mayfield Retires From FACES

Lynne Mayfield, the former FACES President retires after 28 years with us. She did so much for this organization and we are so sad to see her go. We wish nothing but the best retirement for her. Here are a few parting words from her:

"Everyone who crosses paths with FACES is moved by their experience, whether as a volunteer, a board member, a client, or in my case, as the president for nearly three decades. I never imagined I'd devote my career to this work, but when I think about the ways I've been able to have some small effect on people's lives, I'm humbled by it.

FACES is not a giant organization - far from it! We exist and we thrive thanks to the work of so many people who are moved by the stories of the clients we serve. In 28 years, the world has changed so much, but the need for our work has not. We still live in a nation where children born with facial differences may not have access to adequate medical care, and we live in a nation that chooses to turn its back on those who need help the most.

That's where FACES comes in. Since our founding, we've turned toward those children who need life-changing surgery to repair facial differences that are incredibly rare. We've turned towards families who must receive the joy of their child's birth mixed with fear for their child's long-term health. We've turned towards the children who may look different on the outside, but whose beauty shines so brightly from within."

When others turn away, FACES steps forward with compassion, caring and hope. I hope that my time as president has cemented that instinct in our organization, and I am excited to see FACES continue to grow and serve."