A blog on the experiences of a young person with a visible difference by Ruyuan Yang, 15 years old.
As a young person with a visible difference on my face, it can feel intimidating walking into public spaces only to have people stare, and even, one occasion, point at me. There was one incident a few years ago where I was at school washing my hands and a boy said to me, ‘is it hard to have something like that?’ Naturally, I was speechless.
Not all of the prejudice I experience is so overt and obvious. Often it’s the feeling of others treating you differently, even in the most covert ways. People refusing to look you in the eye, being especially awkward in your presence, making jokes about visible difference on social media. These are the types of prejudice I loathe the most. They are invisible, not as obvious and slowly chip away at your self-esteem. It can easily make you feel the most isolated from other people.
People with visible differences often face prejudice when it comes to finding work. They can be associated with negative adjectives such as ‘depressed, strange, loner’ more than the average person. Such views may not be displayed very overtly, but these hidden views can often prevent a person with a visible difference from getting that job. Changing Faces research found that four fifths of people affected by a difference have avoided applying for a job. They thought their appearance would hinder them at interview or that new colleagues would make them uncomfortable. Additionally, more than half think their condition hinders their career in some way. 17% had left a job – or felt forced to leave – because of reactions to their appearance.
I see visible difference as being sorely underrepresented in comparison to other types of discrimination. For example, villains or negative characters in TV shows and movies are so often represented by scars, conditions or disfigurements. Just think of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. This easily leads to people associating differences with negative characteristics that go beyond their appearance, and viewing people affected in real life as somehow not being a ‘normal person’. Even positive films like Wonder still give backstories to the person’s visible difference as if it is something that must be addressed. When will we see visible difference become normalised both on screen and in general society?
Fortunately Changing Faces’ campaign #IAmNotYourVillain successfully ran in November 2018. It resulted in the British Film Institute deciding to no longer fund films that would portray negative characters through visible difference. The progress being achieved gives me hope and optimism for the future of visible difference in the media.
Invisible prejudice was the reason I suffered with low self-esteem for a while in early secondary school. Combined with the lack of positive role models who had visible difference it made me feel even more different and ‘alien’.
It was only a few months ago that I joined the Changing Faces Youth Action Group. Changing Faces is a charity that aims to help and support people with visible difference, as well as raise awareness. As a Youth Action Group member, my personal goal is to help those who may be in the same situation as me. Young people who have issues feeling accepted for their difference, and feeling part of society. I hope to see a world where we can all see people as different, but equal.
If you resonate with this article and would like to find out more about the support, campaigns and education programmes Changing Faces can offer, please visit: https://changingfaces.org.uk