New campaign aims to highlight negative impact of staring at people with disfigurements

A new campaign is being launched to urge people not to stare at anyone with a facial or other disfigurement because of the impact it has on them.

Charity Changing Faces said its research suggested people with visible differences have experienced an increase in hostile behaviour when going out in public over the past few years.

Staring was having a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people with a visible difference, said the charity.

Half of more than 1,000 people surveyed with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different said they have felt self-conscious or embarrassed as a result of their visible difference.

When those with a visible difference do go out, almost a third said they get stared at, the report said.

Heather Blake (pictured), chief executive of Changing Faces, said: “We had hoped the shared experience of the Covid-19 pandemic might promote a more understanding society, but for those with a visible difference or disfigurement, there’s actually been a marked increase in being on the receiving end of stares, comments and abuse when they go out in public.

“With limited opportunities to socialise, people shielding and visible differences being obscured by masks and face coverings, perhaps seeing a diverse range of faces and body types hasn’t been as commonplace in the past two years.

“That’s no excuse – it’s simply not acceptable that people are experiencing negative behaviours, abuse and discrimination because of how they look.”

The charity launched a week-long series of events and activities to mark Face Equality Week aimed at raising awareness of what needs to change, so everyone with a visible difference or disfigurement is supported and respected.

Changing Faces’ ambassador Atholl Mills, 28, from Berwickshire, who was born with cystic hygroma and has facial palsy, following surgery as a baby, said: “For me, stares are just as bad as abusive comments. When you’re on the receiving end of a stare, it can make you feel incredibly anxious.

“Is this going to escalate to verbal or physical abuse because of the way I look? I’m left wondering what the person is thinking when they’re looking at me. That stare, that you might not ever think of again, could be played over and over in my mind – hours, days, even months later.”

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