The theme of Anti-Bullying Week 2022 is ‘reach out’ – a message that connects directly with our vision for everyone with a visible difference or disfigurement to be supported and respected. That’s why our ambassadors, campaigners and young media champions are sharing why they believe that it’s always the right time to reach out.
In 2021, we released research carried out with ChildWise, which highlighted the worrying impact that having a visible difference can have on children and young people.
The research found that one in three (31%) children and young people with a visible difference had received mean comments relating to their appearance, and for almost a quarter (24%) of these respondents it had escalated to bullying, the research shone a spotlight on the negativity that children and young people with a visible difference can experience day-to-day.
Our campaigner, Jenny, who was born with gastroschisis and now lives with a scar across her abdomen, no belly button, and several chronic health problems, says: “For a decade, aged seven to 17, I was bullied for my visible difference. I was dragged around the playground by my hair, cornered in bathrooms and had clothing removed without consent. People gawked and whispered and touched. Sometimes I’d receive verbal abuse about it on the bus in the morning; I hadn’t even entered the school grounds yet.
“Being bullied at school impacts your education; a time in life that shapes the adult you might turn into. I’m speaking out because I believe everyone deserves to feel respected. Every environment you’re in should be a safe one. Whether that’s school, work, the changing room or the street. You’re deserving of that.”
We want everyone across the UK with a visible difference or disfigurement to have access to the support they need, whether that’s wellbeing services or a community of like-minded people who understand their experiences.
Reaching out is often the first step towards a brighter future for many people with a visible difference. It can be lonely never seeing anyone who looks like you in the playground or in the media, but we can help people feel less isolated.
Our campaigner, Emma, who has Char syndrome, says:“When I was bullied, I lost myself in a very dark place, because I couldn’t see a time when I wouldn’t get bullied. I thought it would follow me into higher education and then into the workplace.
“Thankfully I was wrong, and I’ve managed to find the better days. It’s a journey that is made by taking very small steps, and it’s not always linear. Sometimes it feels like you’ve hit a dead end, but you can always follow your steps back and try again.
“I’ve always found at my darkest points that the people in my life shine the brightest. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel and ask for help. Being bullied takes a lot out of you, but never let it take your hope. There are people out there who understand and care about you.”
Our campaigner, Amba, who has two different types of birthmarks, which cover her whole body, says: “Being bullied made me feel weak, like my bullies had a hold on me and my emotions. I felt like I couldn’t be my true self with my visible difference. Those people made me feel like it was something to be ashamed of.
“It took me a while to reach out for support, as I felt like it was my own fault for being bullied. I think my family knew that there were problems at school, but they didn’t pressure me into telling them what had been happening. They let me make that decision myself.
“I think if I was to ever come across my bullies again, I would tell them that they never broke me. In fact, they made me a stronger person, who can now help others and raise awareness and positivity about visible difference.
“If I could speak to my younger self or another young person who is being bullied due to their visible difference, I would tell them not to fear getting into trouble for speaking out against your bully or feeling like a burden. It isn’t your fault.”
We think education is key to ending bullying for people with a visible difference for good. The earlier children learn to celebrate what makes us unique, the more accepting they’ll be as they grow up. That’s why we’re sharing our classroom and assembly resources to support teachers in promoting acceptance, as well as having created a list of inclusive book, TV and toy recommendations for parents and children with the help of our campaigners and ambassadors.
Heather Blake, our Chief Executive, says: “Bullying isn’t just a childish act, it can impact a person’s self-esteem and confidence for many years. Taking that first step towards overcoming the impact of bullying doesn’t have a time limit, and Changing Faces is here to listen whenever you feel ready to talk.
“We speak out and campaign to challenge the bullying and discrimination faced by too many people who have a visible difference. Hopefully, we’ll get to a point where people with a visible difference no longer have to reach out because of bullying, but until then, it’s vital that they get the support they need.”
Anyone dealing with the impact of bullying due to a visible difference should contact our Support & Information Line service who can listen and direct people to the best support for them.