Face Equality aims to eliminate negative social media activity, broaden representation in the public eye, stamp out appearance discrimination and challenge prejudice… so let’s make it happen.“
Many people are overlooked for employment opportunities due to our facial differences or skin conditions, and endure a lot of curiosity, ridicule, abuse and physical verbal violence because of our appearances. We are not often included in media and advertising, and when we are, it’s usually sensationalist and dehumanising.
This week I’ve been sharing #MyBestSelfies (inspired by my girl Melissa Blake who continues to post selfies when trolls tell her she shouldn’t, because of her facial difference), and writing about why I do so. It’s been fun.
Selfies as a defiant political act
Selfies can be seen as vain and vapid. But feel for people with facial differences and skin conditions, they are a defiant political act – especially when they’re #NoFilter (all of mine are!). They show the world that we want to be seen, that we are not going to change our faces to conform, and that visibility is possibly. We are also making safe for other people with facial differences and skin conditions to share their photos without fear.
I dare you – especially allies without facial differences and skin conditions – to post a selfie of your real face, unfiltered. Be proud. I put a call on Twitter earlier this week for allies to show us their unfiltered, natural faces. The response was amazing – so many people shared they beautiful, natural faces. But sadly, some people told me they are still scared to show off their natural faces. We need to ensure people feel safe enough to show their natural faces, without fear of being mocked.
It took me many years to put my face on the internet. I was always worried about my image being misused, and while it was misused badly in 2013, I am very rarely trolled about my appearance. If anything, it’s praised, especially when I post outfit photos.
Ironically, this week I have received some pretty terrible trolling (I make – the trolling public – read about it here and here). This trolling told me I’m ugly, and that I should delete my social media. I am lucky to be surrounded by supportive people, and have developed strong resilience. But many people haven’t got that level of support and assurance, and trolling could push them over the edge.
Melissa Blake, who I mentioned earlier, posted selfies to defy her trolls.
Her tweet went viral. She received so much support. And she owned her appearance. She wrote for HuffPost
“That tweet … brought disabilities and beauty together ― two things we don’t typically associate with each other. That tweet showed the world that those two things can exist together and that disabilities can be beautiful.
In that one tweet, I owned my beauty. For the first time in my life, I felt worthy and deserving. In less than 280 characters, I found the sense of self-confidence I’d been looking for since those days spent analyzing myself in front of the mirror.”
Retouching apps and filters
I never use retouching apps or filters. After many years of being told I should change my face, I only want to show my natural face.
It worries me that there are photo apps and filters that can drastically alter people’s appearances – smooth skin, whiten teeth, reshape faces, make people look years younger, and widen eyes. I’ve seen that some phones come with an inbuilt beauty filter. Sometimes I’ve been in selfies with this function, and I’ve asked people to take the filter off, because our photographed faces don’t even look like our real faces. I refuse photos with strangers if they have just seen me speak about appearance diversity and self love, yet still take the selfie through a retouching app.
Retouching filters can be used by people to hide their facial differences, if they choose.
Writer, Crystal Hodges, who has a facial birthmark, says she sometimes uses Snapchat filters to mask her birthmark.
“[It’s] not necessarily to hide it – more out of, again, curiosity. After all, how many blondes wonder what it would be like to be brunette? And vice versa? Sometimes (while I don’t dwell in it by any means) I do wonder what I would look like without a birthmark, and sometimes Snapchat opens that door to help me see what I would look like without a birthmark the purplish hue that covers half my face.”
One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen is a recommendation about an app that makes your face look less like you’ve got ichthyosis. I replied that I wish people didn’t feel there was a need for this. I spoke more about this on ListenAble podcast.
Facial difference filters
Lots of my friends find facial difference filters within social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat fun, but they are damaging.
As an example, I have purposely chosen cute filters – a rabbit and a butterfly, because I don’t want to inadvertently cruelly mock anyone else. Look, as a 38 year old, I think these make me look really silly. But it’s a bit of fun.
But what about those other filters? The ones that mimic people with facial differences? You know, large foreheads, small mouths, big teeth, scars… digital Halloween costumes at the press of a button. I’ve seen you use them, and have a laugh at them (on you and on others). And I’ve cringed. 🐰
What these filters do is perpetuate the idea that people with facial differences are to be laughed at, are silly, are frightening, are to be mimicked. I bet those filters were not created by people with facial differences. As allies, I ask you to stop using the filters that make your face look like you’ve got a facial difference.
Think of how it feels to have a facial difference and how it feels to be made fun of and misrepresented. You can take that filter off, and you don’t endure curiosity, ridicule, abuse and violence in public and online. But we can’t and we do.
When those types of filters are phased out, we might be on the path to Face Equality.
My good friend Linda (pictured with me below), who has a facial difference, posted the following comment below my filter photos.
“Nothing wrong with a bit of fun occasionally like the filters you use here, but I find the ones that change your face upsetting to see sometimes. I’ve seen filters people (including friends of mine) have posted of themselves with shallow jaws or sunken-in faces with no cheekbones and it just makes me sad as they look like me, but people are posting them as funny or “gross”. “
A Twitter friend, Penny Loker, says “I’ve never been a fan of SnapChat or TikTok but I am familiar with the filters that they employ. 90% of people are going to read this and will try to placate us and say “it’s just meant to be fun”. I don’t disagree that some filters can be cute, fun. But with anything and everything there is always something that takes it too far. Filters that purposefully distort ones facial features or rearrange ones features fall in that category. I see them and I’m instantly reminded of my childhood. When my school mates would use their hands or other props to try to make their face like mine as they laughed. People use these filters oblivious to the impact it has on others. Like everything if it doesn’t impact them, they don’t care and say we are “too sensitive”. It’s infuriating, and yet exhausting.”
People with facial differences and skin conditions, and disabled people often aren’t expected to feel sexy, or show that we are sexual beings. We are often de-sexualised. Since I’ve been in isolation, I’ve been inspired by Cherie Louise to wear some fancy lingerie.
This is not expected of me – to show so much skin, or to look and feel sexual. While these photos were for me, it felt good to see myself as my husband sees me.
We don’t see enough lingerie models with skin conditions and facial differences. And I want to change that. I dare you to have a selfie session in your best underwear. You will feel amazing. (Of course you don’t have the share the photos anywhere.)
Melissa Blake told me “I don’t look “normal,” but that’s exactly what’s pushed me to keep showing my real face on social media. The more visible people with facial differences are, the less stigmatized they will be.”
I hope my words and photos (and those from Crystal, Linda, Melissa and Penny):have given you some confidence to take a selfie and post it to social media, especially if you have a facial difference or skin condition. I hope you are a little closer to being comfortable and confident with your appearance if historically you have been ashamed of it. And I hope you realise you should never have to hide or change your face because society tells us we should – this is not true.
In a society that tells us we should look a certain way, let’s prove everyone wrong. Be proud of your natural face. Don’t hide it.
If you need support here are some useful organisations :
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
If this post or my work has helped you or made you think, or you’ve used it in your work, please consider buying me a drink. Thank you.