Michael smiling, standing on a quiet street

Media guidelines

Guidance for journalists and reporters on how to talk about visible difference and disfigurement in the media, including contact details for our media team.

Changing Faces is here to support the media with the latest information on and ways of talking about visible difference or disfigurement.

On this page, we provide guidance on how to talk about visible difference. For further information, you can download our full media guidelines, but if you’re unsure about any of this, please get in touch with our media team.

Media portrayal of visible difference

People with a visible difference such as a condition, mark or scar can face discrimination at school, work and in other areas of their lives. Media portrayal has a significant impact on public opinion and can affect how someone who looks different is treated.

At Changing Faces, we work closely with the media to ensure that reporting is sensitive, accurate and non-discriminatory, and does not play into to prejudice and stereotyping.

Key facts

Nearly one in five people across the UK self-identify as having a visible difference such as a mark, scar or condition.

At least 1.3 million children, young people and adults in the UK are estimated to have significant disfigurements, including 569,000 with facial disfigurements.

You can read more facts about visible difference and disfigurement on our dedicated page. This includes information about the impact of looking different on people’s health and wellbeing, and the hostile behaviour and discrimination people with visible difference experience in everyday life.

Language

Changing Faces generally uses the words “visible difference” to describe a mark, scar or condition on a person’s face or body that makes them look different. “Disfigurement” is often used in a legal context as it is enshrined in law in the Equality Act 2010, which gives legal protection to people with “severe disfigurements”.

It is important to know that not everyone likes the word “disfigurement”, preferring “visible difference”, terms such as “look different” or the name of their condition instead.

Advice on how to talk about looking different

Things you should do:

  • Use “visible difference” rather than “deformity”, “abnormality” or “defect”.
  • When interviewing someone, ask them beforehand how they refer to their visible difference or to describe what happened to them and reflect this language in the piece. Be aware that no matter how many times someone tells their story, it can still be an emotional moment for them.
  • Many people prefer to use the name of the condition or the cause of the mark or scar to describe themselves and we encourage you to do this too. For example, “Anya has a cleft lip” or, “Nathan sustained burns in a house fire”. This is an informative way of describing the person’s condition, mark or scar.

Things you should not do:

  • Do not use “scarred people” but place the individual first, by using phrases like “people who have scars”.
  • Do not use sensationalising phrases such as “terribly scarred”, “horribly disfigured” or “badly burned”. Instead, use non-judgemental, factual language.
  • Do not use “victim”, instead use “survivor” or, where possible, say that an individual was “involved” in an accident or incident.
  • Do not make assumptions about the experience of having a visible difference or how someone feels about this – each person’s situation is individual to them.
  • Do not assume the person is a victim or feel sorry for them – listen to their experiences and take your lead from them.

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Facts for the media

Key facts to inform your coverage of visible difference to help you ensure your reporting is sensitive, accurate and non-discriminatory.

Media spokespeople

Changing Faces can provide media spokespeople to discuss visible difference, including campaigners, ambassadors and staff-members.