Visible difference

What does ‘visible difference’ mean?

The reality is that, although we have many similarities, as human beings we are all unique and different to each other – in looks and personality, and many other ways.

So how do we define visible difference? At Changing Faces, we describe this as a scar, mark or condition affecting appearance. For example:

  • A condition that changes the shape, size, feel or look of the face or body, or how it functions
  • A birthmark, an area of skin or a part of the body that varies in appearance, texture or colour, or it is different to other parts of the face or body
  • Scars or burns or changes to the face or body from an accident, act of violence or self-harm
  • Scars or changes from a illness, treatment or operation

People use many different words to describe themselves and may say they ‘look different’, have a ‘difference’, a ‘disfigurement’ or an ‘altered appearance’; many people prefer to use the name of the condition, mark or scar, for example:  birthmark, Treacher Collins syndrome or alopecia.

When appropriate, Changing Faces also uses the term ‘disfigurement’, usually in a more legal or professional medical setting. ‘Disfigurement’ is used in the UK’s Equality Act 2010 to protect people from discrimination. However, we recognise that ‘disfigurement’ is not a term preferred by many people who are affected. The words you use are up to you and depend on what you feel comfortable with.

Anyone can be affected by a condition, mark or scar which affects appearance – at any time, at any age, from any background.

Only you can judge the impact of your visible difference on you and your life. Your difference may be very visible to others, or hidden or what some people call ‘minor’ (that’s not to say it is minor to you!). Understandably, having a visible difference may cause you to feel upset, anxious, embarrassed or unconfident at times. For some conditions, there are medical or surgical treatments that could make a condition less noticeable; however, in many cases, it is rarely possible to remove it completely or this is not available.

Whilst many people live fulfilling lives, looking different can be very challenging at times. Worrying about your appearance and how other people might act can affect how you feel about yourself. It can mean you feel less confident – and in turn, this causes you to act in an embarrassed, shy or worried way when you meet people. You might even try and avoid meeting new people as you are worried about how they will respond to you.

How you feel about yourself? Are you SCARED?

Being SCARED can also explain how you feel… and how you then might act.




act shy
conspicuous (standing out)


cover yourself up
angry or anxious


be angry or anxious
rejected – like people don’t want to know you


retreat – pull away or hide from people


be evasive – ignore people


act defensive – try to protect yourself


When we are feeling less confident, it is easy to focus on all the things we feel are ‘wrong’ about ourselves. However, we all experience this at times – the truth is that no-one is perfect and we all  see our ‘flaws’ and things we don’t like about ourselves.. We all feel self-conscious at times and worry about how we look.

What if I'm not really coping?

There are some people who struggle greatly to come to terms with their appearance. If you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Finding it very hard to cope, eg: feeling very distressed, depressed, anxious all the time and not able to go out or do the things you enjoy doing
  • Feeling very traumatised, unable to sleep properly or concentrate, having nightmares or flashbacks (especially of the incident that caused your condition), avoiding things that remind you or might make you anxious
  • Struggling with how you feel about yourself and managing your condition

If you are experiencing any of these problems, don’t struggle on alone. You might find it helpful to speak to a professional who can help and support you. Or contact Changing Faces for support, or to help you talk to your GP or another professional.

For more information on confidence and how you can build this, you might be interested in the other self help sheets in this section.

  • Appearance and self-esteem
  • About confidence

We also have a set of Confidence Tools to improve confidence

Appearance and self-esteem


About confidence


More people are using Changing Faces services than ever before. We want to be here for everyone affected by with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different.

We’ve made all our services, factsheets and information free for everyone. It takes time and money to do this, but we think it is really important.

That’s why I hope you’ll understand why we need to ask for your help. If you’ve found our website or services helpful, and your circumstances allow, then please consider donating. Every penny counts and you can give at Thank you.