Six in ten (60%) respondents said that they had avoided dating or going on a date because of their appearance

Relationships and family life

I don’t think I have been seen as boyfriend material by many girls over the years, or even
one-night-stand material.

It is all too easy to take for granted that most people will meet a life partner, ‘settle down’ and have children, and we often hear the phrase, ‘there’s someone out there for everyone’. Sadly, our research exposes the untruth and misconception in this and shows that dating, relationships and family life can be incredibly difficult – although not impossible – for some people who have a disfigurement.

Whilst 58% of respondents said they were in a relationship, of those who said they were not, only 16% said they were actively looking for a relationship whilst 30% said that they have never dated and have never considered dating. This could suggest a concerning lack of aspiration and a resignation to spending their lives alone. Six in ten (60%) respondents said that they had avoided dating or going on a date because of their appearance.

Almost a third (32%) of respondents said they had used a dating app or website. Of these, 44% said that their condition was visible in their profile photo, and 92% said they received negative comments or feedback about their appearance.

Three in ten respondents (29%) said they had disclosed their condition beforehand to someone they were meeting for a date, but almost twice as many (57%) said they hadn’t. Whilst some had positive stories to tell, the overwhelming majority had negative experiences to share.

“They just commented that being one-eyed was a drawback.”

“He saw the scars, called me a psycho, and refused to speak to me again.”

“On one memorable Saturday night, a man I’d been talking to all evening pushed my hair back gently from my face and said in a quiet, thoughtful voice, ‘You know, you’d be so beautiful if you weren’t so ugly’.”

“I’ve been called ugly. I’ve been told that someone couldn’t handle being with someone who looks like me.”

Of course, many people with disfigurements successfully navigate the world of dating and find themselves in long-term relationships and marriage, and 30% of respondents are in long term relationships of more than six years, and 43% are married or in a civil partnership. But even a wedding – ‘the happiest day of your life’, we’re told – is not without its challenges.

“I was terrified about being judged in my wedding dress. I even got abuse from a stranger outside the church.”

“I was stood in the bridal shop, waiting to try on a dress. In an incredibly patronising voice, the shop assistant asked me if I was a bridesmaid. I told her that I was the bride. She said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realise that people like you got married’.”

“I didn’t want to get married because I can’t smile great.”

One respondent, who acquired her disfigurement when already married, said that if events had happened in reverse she would not have got married.

I did not have the condition when I got married. I would not have been happy being photographed in my wedding photos if I did have it then.

Most conditions that cause disfigurement do not affect fertility, and 92% of respondents said that their condition didn’t affect their ability to have children. However, of this 92%, more than three quarters (76%) said that their disfigurement had impacted on their decision to have children.

“I question having children because I wouldn’t want them to grow up like me.”

“I was told by my parents not to have children. I internalised this and thought I did not want children until it was too late to have them.”

“People have said that I shouldn’t have children as they’ll be upset by my scars.”

“I was told it would be best if I gave my son up so he wouldn’t be bullied.”

“[Someone said to me], ‘Imagine having to grow up with a father who looks like that’.”

Almost half (47%) of respondents have children and, of those, 13% have a child who has a disfigurement. Some reported comments from other parents, and of their children being bullied because of their parent’s appearance.

Other parents avoided me because I was ‘disabled’ and their children weren’t allowed to come to tea so my children had fewer friends – bullied at secondary school for having a mum with a funny eye.

Recommendations

5a Dating apps and websites should use models in advertising campaigns who have
an unusual appearance to help to ‘normalise’ disfigurement. They should also ensure appropriate resources are in place to quickly and effectively tackle instances of abuse on their platforms.

5b The wedding industry should develop guidelines and help to ensure that wedding service providers are disfigurement confident and do not discriminate, using work by the British Beer & Pub Association as an example.

5c Charities, fostering agencies and local authorities should include parents with a disfigurement in their campaigns, again to normalise disfigurement and show that people who look different can make excellent parents – like everyone else.

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