One in eight respondents said they had experienced discrimination on holiday in the UK

Out and about

In most situations where we deal with other people, everyone’s actions are governed by rules: in the workplace, in school, even online – though we will see failures in that area later in the report. But it seems that when people with disfigurements are out and about – in the street, on public transport, in a social setting, or shopping – normal rules of civilised society are ignored and people feel free to stare and gawp, to shout abuse and unpleasantness at them. More than four-fifths (81.3%) of respondents have experienced staring, comments or unpleasantness from a stranger.

Experiencing such unpleasantness which counts as harassment in law, can have a serious impact on someone’s confidence in social situations. We asked respondents if they had ever decided not to visit a specific venue because of how people might react to their appearance. More than half (53.9%) had avoided a nightclub visit, 46.5% a pub, 41.3% a gym, 30.6% a café or restaurant, 28.1% a shop, and 20.7% had avoided a theatre trip.

Avoiding these situations is not always just because of the possibility of comments from
other customers or members of the public. 28.1% of people have avoided going into a shop, but 45.8% of all respondents had experienced a comment or unpleasantness from a shop assistant.

Almost a quarter (24.5%) had such comments from a member of bar staff , 23.5% from nightclub or security staff, and 20% from staff in a restaurant. More than a third (36.1%) have experienced unpleasant comments from people in parks and open spaces.

Despite these relatively high incidences of harassment, rudeness, unpleasantness and intrusive behaviour, there is an unwillingness to report such incidents or to complain. Of all those respondents who reported having such an experience, only 14.1% complained – more than eight in ten did not.

“I have been threatened with a knife because of ‘my face’.”

“I always have to do a mini risk assessment before going out. I have to assess what sort of people might be there and who might comment on my appearance.”

“If I go to a restaurant I have to be able to position myself so I’m facing away from everyone.”

Approximately half of respondents to our survey had a disfigurement that they had acquired (such as a scar from burns or surgery, eczema or other skin condition) rather than one with which they were born. Of those who had acquired their condition, mark or scar since childhood, we asked them if they visited specific types of venue more, the same, or less than before they acquired their disfigurement. A quarter (25.7%) visit pubs much less often, 26% the gym, and 34.9% visit nightclubs much less. The average score (from 5) across all types of venue was 2.8, meaning most people are taking part in such activities less often since acquiring their disfigurement.

“On one occasion I had a guy on the tube who said my parents must have done something wrong [for me to look like I do] and that I should pray to the Lord for forgiveness – I was just back at work after losing my dad. I moved down the carriage but he followed me. If I had not been getting off I would have pulled the alarm cord because he was harassing me. Everyone else ignored the situation.”

“I was on a train going to work, while heavily pregnant. There were some builders who were calling me a tramp, and said ‘Oh my god, who’d f**k that?’.”

Despite work by Changing Faces with Transport for London, South West Trains and other providers, public transport remains intimidating for people with disfigurements, especially those who cannot drive due to their condition (which accounted for 1 in 12 of respondents to our survey). Almost half (49%) said they have felt vulnerable on public transport. Some respondents told us that when they reported incidents to drivers or other public transport employees, they were brushed off or advised just to wait for the next service.

A third of respondents (32.3%) said that their condition or appearance had influenced a decision on where to go on holiday. Whilst a large majority (86.4%) always go on holiday with family or friends, many said that they avoided certain countries or situations.

“I am hesitant at visiting countries where a cleft is seen as evil, a mark of the devil, or associated with the supernatural.”

“Australia was once a country where I felt very comfortable but on a recent visit I was told by friends and strangers that my appearance ‘did not go down well’ and I should try to ‘get some more work done’. I was also handed cards bearing the names of plastic surgeons.”

Responses to our survey show that discrimination is not an issue just for the UK. One in eight respondents said they had experienced discrimination on holiday in the UK, and the same proportion had experienced it in Europe (14.8% and 14.1% respectively).

“When travelling to Canada, the airport authorities assumed my altered appearance was the result of heavy drug use and detained me until a full explanation had been given.”

“In clothes shops I have been asked not to try on clothes because of my skin condition.”

“In France I’ve been refused entry to bars when my friends were let in.”

“I was in Italy and this old lady started staring and calling me ugly, shouting ‘go and kill yourself.’”


3a Building on Changing Faces’ work with the British Beer & Pub Association, other industry and trade bodies must develop guidelines and training for staff to ensure they are confident in dealing with customers and visitors who have a disfigurement.

3b Operators of public transport franchises should run poster and advertising campaigns on face equality to encourage passengers not to stare, and to treat everyone with respect. Train guards and public transport staff must be given training to be able to deal with people with disfigurements, and give help when it is needed.

3c Police and local authorities need to do more to inform people that abusing someone with a 
disfigurement is a hate crime, including shouting names and other abuse in public places. This will also encourage people who have a disfigurement to feel more confident to report such incidents.