Growing up with a birthmark and the implications of negative depictions of facial difference on screen
Sharon explores the offensive casting for the new Amazon Prime Lord of the Rings series, and what this means to her
Different. I got used to that word from an early age. ‘You look different to other kids. Because I have a birthmark? Because some of my skin is red? I never actually felt different. I still did the same things as my friends at school, I learnt to ride a bike, liked cake, cartoons. As far as I was concerned, I was no different to anyone else my age. Except for this huge, glaringly obvious red birthmark that covers half my face and most of my body.
I hated being different. What was worse, was having it pointed out to me. I never had anyone at school that looked like me, no role models I could look up to. As much as I had a happy childhood, I felt isolated and lonely, in a world where looks are paramount, the phrase ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ was often quoted to me when I cried because I felt so ugly. I got used to people pointing at me, making rude comments, assuming I couldn’t hear them. To this day, that quote still haunts me.
It wasn’t until I was teenager that I saw a birthmark on someone else. Walking through my local shopping centre, and spotting someone with a similar port wine stain on their face was like a revelation, there were other people like me on this planet. In 2016 after counselling for depression, I decided I wanted to get involved with the charity Changing Faces. Walking into a room on the very first meeting with people who had birthmarks, scars, and facial differences was like walking into a community of people where I felt like I existed. I felt welcomed. I was no longer the girl with a birthmark, I was Sharon, I was a person. I was more than what my face defined me. I didn’t feel different anymore, I felt like I’d finally found somewhere I belonged.
I’ve met some amazing people through Changing Faces, many who are now close friends. So, imagine our collective anger when Amazon Prime asked a New Zealand casting agency to put out a casting call for ‘funky looking people’. Is this what we as a small minority should still be subjected to? Being cast as the monsters, the villains? This stereotype is damaging in so many ways. The lack of inclusion for anyone with a facial difference in society is huge. The beauty industry is still slow to feature people with facial differences and scars. Instead, we’re still being demonised, portrayed as evil. This has to stop. Nothing will change if multibillion-pound companies like Amazon Prime perpetuate the myth that by looking different, we are a lower class of people.
We still do not have equality in society, and this is setting the cause back even further. The implications of this will mean that it’s okay to show us as monsters, encouraging more discrimination and abuse, giving people permission to ridicule us. This is not achieving facial equality; this is enforcing the narrative that ‘different’ equals bad.
Facial equality means seeing past the difference, or the scar or the burn, seeing the person and treating them as a human. If we’re ever going to achieve this, people with facial differences need to be represented and included in everyday society as ordinary people. I do not want to be cast as a monster; I don’t want to be cast as a victim either. I just want to be cast as a person. All I want is for people like myself, anyone with a facial difference, to just be accepted as an equal.
Follow more from Sharon on her Instagram @sharon_swims