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Handling reactions to facial disfigurement

How to handle reactions to disfigurement, including questions, comments and stares.

Learning how to be confident and handle people's reactions can help people with disfigurements get more out of social interactions.

Using positive body language and having a set of responses ready to use if people stare at you can be helpful.

Body language tips

Think about what your body language is saying. Carrying yourself with confidence can help you feel more comfortable and encourage positive interactions with others.

Examples of confident body language:

  • maintaining eye contact with someone
  • speaking in a confident tone
  • using your face and hands to express yourself
  • standing tall 
  • keeping your shoulders down

Dealing with staring

If people ask you about your appearance, they aren't necessarily being hostile.

Many people are only curious or even concerned – you might have experienced these feelings yourself when encountering someone who has a visible mark, scar or condition.

If someone stares and you want them to stop, try looking back, smiling and holding their gaze for a moment. Many people will smile back at you and look away.

If the staring continues, look back and hold the person's gaze, while raising your eyebrows to show them that you've noticed they're staring.

If you decide to say something, you could use a number of different approaches:

  • "Hello." This lets them know you have noticed them looking at you.
  • "I would prefer it if you didn't stare at me." A firm yet straightforward response.
  • "My appearance seems to be bothering you. It doesn't bother me." Confident, firm and clearly labelling the person staring as the one with the problem.
  • "Your admiring glances are beginning to embarrass me!" The confident and humorous approach.
  • "We've clearly met before – you can't seem to take your eyes off me." Humorous, but making the point that their behaviour is intrusive and inappropriate.

A quick and effective reply is more likely to end the interaction than saying something that could start a discussion, or even an argument.

Practise your social skills

Learning some specific skills and practising them could help you feel more confident in social situations.

If there are common questions that people often ask you, think about different ways of answering and either closing the subject or moving the conversation on.

For example, when people ask "What happened to your face?":

  • "I was burned when I was younger. It was a long time ago. I don't talk about it now." This is clear and brief.
  • "I was burned when I was younger, but fortunately smoke alarms have reduced the number of injuries like mine." This shows that you're confident and at ease talking about it, but encourages a more general discussion rather than purely personal.
  • "I was burned when I was younger and I'm going in for more plastic surgery soon. They're going to take a graft from my leg." This shows that you're confident and happy to discuss personal details.

If you're worried about forgetting your responses, write them down and keep them with you so you can refresh your memory from time to time.

As you get more comfortable with these responses, you could find yourself feeling increasingly relaxed in social situations and becoming less self-conscious in public.

In some situations, you might find it helps to bring up the subject of your disfigurement if people seem curious or to put them at ease.

This gives you more control over the situation and can stop the anxiety of waiting for others to raise it.

Things don't always work how you want them to straight away. Take time to find what works for you and what doesn't.

If you'd like individual advice and support, you can talk to Changing Faces. The charity supports people with disfigurements to build their confidence and cope with the emotional impact of looking different.

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