Kerry Gillespie

The stigma that comes attached to having a ‘different’ facial appearance was something that I suddenly found myself affected by.”

Hi, my name is Kerry and I’m a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow. My research focuses on the intriguing area of the body that is the human face. As a geographer, I am fascinated by how our appearance, and in particular our facial appearance, plays a role in how we experience the world around us. From shaping the places that we inhabit, to impacting our relationships with ourselves and others, my research attempts to further understand the face as a complex site that holds significance in all sorts of everyday experiences.

This significance of the face is something that I have felt in different ways, as my personal relationship with my facial appearance has changed throughout my life. While I always had a fairly comfortable relationship with my appearance throughout my teenage years, at the age of 21, I developed severe cystic acne. It was at this stage that I became acutely aware of how society perpetuates ideas of a ‘normal’ vs ‘different’ face, and I found that my changing/changed facial appearance was altering the ways in which I had previously encountered the world. The stigma that comes attached to having a ‘different’ facial appearance was something that I suddenly found myself affected by, and although acne is such a common condition that most people will experience at some stage, I struggled to speak to people about how self-conscious and hyperaware of my own appearance I had become.

Instead, I would try my best to hide these feelings, and also hide my face, in any way that I could. I would attempt to cover the acne with my hair, cosmetics, or clothing such as scarves (if only pandemic-related face masks had been as fashionable then …). Social situations completely changed for me – I lost confidence and felt that people were constantly staring at my face. I also worked in a restaurant at the time, and conversations with customers and colleagues that I would have previously participated in made me feel uncomfortable – any time that appearance was mentioned in some way (a lot!), I would actively avoid taking part, as I was battling myself internally about how my face appeared to others.

After several months of denying the validity of what I was going through – mostly from myself thinking ‘oh it’s just spots’, and trying every facewash/cream/cosmetic treatment available – I eventually visited my GP, by which point my face was almost fully covered in visible acne cysts, overall redness, and acne scarring. I was lucky in the sense that the acne was so ‘severe’ by this point that on my first visit to the GP, I was immediately referred to a dermatology specialist. I then began an intense, and at times stressful, course of both topical and oral medication that spanned across a further eight months. I have now been (mostly) acne free for about a year and a half, albeit I am left with some permanent acne scarring on my face.

While not wanting to equate my own experience with the experiences of others, this personal narrative is what has inspired me to pursue this research. I am interested in how living with a facial difference – or any condition or characteristic that alters the appearance of the face, has an impact on all sorts of everyday experiences. In particular, I am interested in what support/various types of ‘treatment’ are available to those living with a facial difference, and how this support is framed and offered in different ways.

I have been carrying out the research for a few months now, and it has been great to connect with people in this community so far – hearing people’s stories about their relationship with their facial appearance, and how seeking different kinds of support can impact this has been so rewarding. Most importantly, these are stories and narratives that deserve to be heard, and raising awareness of such topics will hopefully contribute to a fairer and less stigmatising world for all. I am determined to use the findings of the study to contribute to both academic and non-academic literatures and public resources to advance ‘face equality’, sharing the vision of a world where everyone is treated fairly and equally whatever their face looks like. If you think you may be interested in participating in the research, information about the study is listed below:

Study Name:

Everyday experiences of living with a facial difference

Description:

This study investigates the everyday experiences of living with a facial difference, with focus on the practices, services, or organisations that may provide support or treatment to those affected. You will be invited to complete an online questionnaire that focuses largely on the following topics: personal history/relationship with facial appearance, everyday experiences of living with a facial difference, and experiences of seeking support. The questionnaire should take around 15-20 minutes to complete, and also has an option on completion to take part in a follow-up interview/chat – this is entirely voluntary, and more information is provided about this in the survey.

Eligibility:

Anyone can take part in the study who:

· Is aged 18 or over.

· Identifies as having a ‘facial difference’ (any condition/characteristic that alters the appearance of the face, e.g. birthmarks, scarring, skin conditions, hair loss).

Researcher Information:

If you have any questions or comments about the research, please do not hesitate to contact me at: k.gillespie.1@research.gla.ac.uk for further information. You can also contact my supervisor Professor Hester Parr at: Hester.Parr@glasgow.ac.uk for further information if you have concerns about this project.

Link to the study

This project has been reviewed by, and received ethical clearance through, the University of Glasgow’s College of Science and Engineering Research Ethics Committee

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