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TV: Beauty & The Beast: Ugly Face of Prejudice

Nicola Hughes on the six-part TV series about beauty fascism

Published on February 4th 2011.

TV: Beauty & The Beast: Ugly Face of Prejudice

Admittedly, when I saw the title and trailer for this new series I was struck with those torn feelings I so often get with Channel 4 documentaries. The feeling that I shouldn’t watch it as a protest against the exploitation of less fortunate people versus the knowledge that I’ll get some sense of a sick pleasure from hearing how awful their life is.

Far from being the usual freak show, this six part series exploring our perception of beauty aims to raise awareness of people with facial disfigurements and their experiences of ‘beauty fascism’.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I delight in others’ misfortune - in fact these stories often bring me to tears - but they give me a renewed appreciation for how good my life is and how lucky I am. I’m sure I’m not alone and this is probably why Channel 4 has been able to capitalise on this during a time of recession with programmes such as ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’. No matter how bad our own financial situations, thankfully we aren’t living in a trailer.

For last night’s Channel 4 documentary, ‘Beauty & The Beast: Ugly Face of Prejudice’, I didn’t protest and was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting an ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ type documentary - where the doctor sits with a bit of a smirk on her face whilst asking delving questions that appear to make a mockery of the poor patients unfortunate illness.

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Far from being the usual freak show, this six part series exploring our perception of beauty aims to raise awareness of people with facial disfigurements and their experiences of ‘beauty fascism’.

The first episode saw Yasmin Disney, a 20-year-old who won’t leave the house without completing her two hour daily beauty regime, coupled with 59-year-old Leo Gormley whose face is severely scarred following a petrol accident at the age of 14. Forced to live each other’s lives for a week they were exposed to the prejudices that the other one experiences.

Whilst I could empathise with Yasmin’s sentiments about needing her make-up as an aide to her confidence, I could not empathise with the ridiculous amount of attention she receives on daily basis for the size of her breasts which, quite frankly, were ginormous.

When walking down the street with Leo the general public looked straight past his facial disfigurements and instead focused on Yasmin’s assets - some even shouting abuse at her. I felt sorry for Yasmin when she admitted the reason for spending so much time on her make-up and hair was to draw attention away from her boobs, which were bulging out of her tiny top. I couldn’t help thinking a roll neck jumper would have been more effective.

This wannabe glamour model wasn’t exactly helping herself and it annoyed me that the focus drew away from Leo’s experiences and onto Yasmin’s. Although having larger than average breasts must be a nuisance, it’s hardly comparable to needing 120 separate operations of reconstructive surgery and nearly dying in a fire.

After the break saw Adam Pearson, a sufferer of neurofibromatosis approach the advertising industry to see why there is a low representation of people with facial disfigurements in adverts.

The poor woman at Saatchi and Saatchi looked like she might cry when she was forced to admit that it’s just because people don’t aspire to look like Adam, and adverts need pretty people to sell products.

As awful as it is, it’s undeniable that beauty sells and as much as we might want to deny it - we would all rather look better than worse.

Whilst I don’t think for one second this programme will ever change people’s obsessions with wanting to look good themselves, I hope that exposing the nation to people like Adam and Leo (who both had loveable personalities, admirable resilience and enviable confidence) will reduce prejudice against people with facial deformities.

You can log on to the Channel 4 website here to see how confident you are about your appearance and also see how much you judge people on their looks. Let’s not lie - we all do it.

The second part of Beauty & The Beast: Ugly Face of Prejudice is on Channel 4 on Wednesday 9 February, 8pm. here

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