When I was 17, I saw a “hiring” sign in the window of a local bakery and decided to apply for the job. That afternoon, I put on my most professional outfit and went to the bakery to see if I could fill out an application. When I arrived, however, the owner looked me up and down and told me all the positions had been filled. But when another girl walked in behind me and asked for a request, she was handed one immediately.
I knew it was better than to be surprised. At 17, I was used to strangers treating me like I was a sub-human.
I have Crouzon syndrome, a craniofacial disease where the bones in the head do not grow. I have had dozens of operations to enlarge my skull and my face. These surgeries saved my life but changed my appearance. I’m 30 now, and although my surgeries are behind me, my facial difference has impacted my income, my opportunities, and the way I am treated by strangers in public.
My experience at the bakery was one of many similar. When I was 15, I worked in a pizzeria. I was making $ 6.75 an hour which seemed unreasonable considering how customers laughed at me. “Quasimodo”, they called me sometimes. When I was 20, I applied for a legal internship and the hiring lawyer told me that he had worked with my “gender” before and that the job (filing and answering the phone) would be too much for anyone. like me. After college, I applied for a post as an editor. The hiring manager was impressed with my work until she met me in person. Because of my appearance, she didn’t believe that the resume and handwriting sample I submitted belonged to me and made me “prove it” – to show her that I could actually write. My twin sister, Zan, who also suffers from Crouzon syndrome, had similar experiences. He was once asked in an interview to explain his medical history. Another asked if his appearance had an impact on his intelligence.
In the Western world, beauty is seen through a narrow set of ideals: white, slim, able-bodied, and symmetrical. So having a disfigured face meant that my humanity was constantly being questioned, which pierced me with a lesson that I have spent all my life learning: Beautiful people are valued more. They also earn more money.
Economists have found that “attractive” individuals who meet Western beauty standards earn around 12-14 percent more than their unattractive colleagues. A Study 2021 on physical appearance and income revealed that for men greater stature meant higher income, while for women obesity meant lower income. There is also a racial wage gap. Black and Hispanic women represent a large portion of Americans earning less than $ 15 an hour.
While there is research related to the impact of race and gender on income, the facial difference is often overlooked. This is surprising given that people with disabilities – including disfigurement – face many financial, institutional and behavioral barriers, forcing people with disabilities of all age groups to be less likely to graduate from college and be employed.
According to Change face, a UK equal opportunities organization, more than a third of people have experienced discrimination because of their appearance when applying for a job. Their research shows that for people with physical differences, finding a job is only half the battle. Their 2021 reported that 25% of participants had been observed in the workplace and 19% felt uncomfortable with colleagues and / or received negative comments regarding their appearance. 10% said they were ignored by their co-workers and 12% had difficulty making friends at work.
Unconscious biases go beyond exclusion in the workplace and negatively impact livelihoods. Changing Faces reported that one in twelve people have been given tasks below their pay grade and denied development opportunities because of their physical appearance. In addition, one in fifteen has been dismissed for promotions and / or salary increases due to their disfigurement. Almost half of those who experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace did not even feel safe enough to discuss their experience with managers or colleagues.
Although there is no specific data for the United States, the history of discrimination and the normalization of ableist policies in the United States suggests that the results in the United States would be similar to those in the United Kingdom. .
Discrimination against individuals with physical differences is rooted in centuries of dehumanization that has taken root in our culture. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many cities had “ugly laws” prohibiting people “sick, mutilated, mutilated, or deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or an inappropriate person” from being in public.
In Chicago during the 1800s, ugly laws were also known as “unsightly beggar ordinances,” and were used to prevent individuals from displaying their disabilities and to keep beggars who had been rejected by society. because of their off-the-street appearance. These laws targeted the disabled, the homeless and the poor, as in many cases they were all of the above.
Disability was not only equated with homelessness and poverty, but it was also criminalized. In a 2016 Chicago Tribune article on the history of “ugly laws,” Elizabeth Greiwe wrote, “They feared that disfigured beggars would scare women. Community leaders opted for an idiomatic solution: out of sight, out of mind. Those deemed “unsightly” were fined $ 1 to $ 50 – which now equates to $ 1,100 – or sent to hospices.
Nina Renata Aron summarized the implications of these laws: “The emphasis on beauty and benevolence belied the true effect (and perhaps the purpose) of these initiatives, which was to define the ideal citizen: one who was white, able-bodied, English-speaking. and sufficiently independent. “
Although ugly laws are no longer in effect in the United States (in Chicago, ugly laws were not repealed until 1974), people with visible differences continue to be treated as inferior. And those that meet Western beauty standards are placed on a pedestal. This leaves many already marginalized people desperate to adhere to arbitrary beauty standards, or risk being further marginalized.
That’s part of why I wrote a book – “A face for Picasso” – a dissertation on what it was like to grow up with a facial difference. Because I want people to understand that treating people who don’t uphold unrealistic beauty standards like we are sub-humans impacts every aspect of life. I spent my childhood and adolescence in and out of the hospital. I have had dozens of operations, some of which were medically necessary, others for cosmetic reasons. I had a hard time figuring out whether or not I wanted plastic surgery anymore because even as a child I understood that complying meant I wouldn’t be treated so cruelly by the world around me. I had over sixty surgeries before I graduated from high school. Not because I hated my face. But because the world made it. And it still wasn’t enough.
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