Disfigurement

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This individual suffers from hand eczema, which causes much harm to the skin.
Disfigurement may also refer to defacement.

Disfigurement is the state of having one's appearance deeply and persistently harmed medically, such as from a disease, birth defect, or wound. General societal attitudes towards disfigurement have varied greatly across cultures and over time, with cultures possessing strong social stigma against it often causing psychological distress to disfigured individuals. The topic has been frequently commented on and referred to in fictional media as well.

Overview[edit]

Disfigurement, whether caused by a benign or malignant condition, often leads to severe psychosocial problems such as negative body image; depression; difficulties in one's social, sexual, and professional lives; prejudice; and intolerance. This is partly due to how the individual copes with looking 'visibly different', though the extent of the disfigurement rarely correlates with the degree of distress the sufferer feels. An additional factor which affects sufferers of a disfigurement is the reaction they get from other people. Studies have shown that the general population respond to people with a disfigurement with less trust, less respect and often try to avoid making contact or having to look at the disfigurement. Disfigurements affecting visible areas such as the face, arms and hands are thought to present greater difficulty for sufferers to cope with than do other disfigurements.

Deliberate mutilation resulting in physical disfigurement has also been practiced by many cultures throughout human history for religious or judicial purposes. During the Byzantine Empire, the emperor was considered God's viceregent on Earth, and as such the physical wholeness of his person was an essential complement to the perfection of Heaven. For this reason, many deposed emperors were blinded, had their noses cut off, or their tongue split by their successors, as these permanent disfigurements disqualified them from ever reclaiming the throne.

A case of voluntary disfigurement is that of St. Æbbe the Younger and the nuns of Coldingham Monastery in Scotland. When the monastery was attacked by Vikings and they feared being raped, she and the nuns cut off their own noses and upper lips. In revenge, the Vikings burned down the building with the nuns inside. This is said to be the origin of the phrase "cutting off the nose to spite the face".

Causes[edit]

Conditions that can cause disfigurement include:

Plastic surgery or reconstructive surgery is available in many cases to disfigured people. Some health insurance companies and government health care systems cover plastic surgery for these problems when they do not cover plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes.

The term "disfigurement" is sometimes used pejoratively to describe the results of intentional body modification. Scarification and other forms of such modification will sometimes be referred to as such by neutral parties or by advocates of the processes as well.

Disfigurement in fiction[edit]

  • In most every adaptation (literary, stage, film, or otherwise) of The Phantom of the Opera, the title character (known as "Erik" or "The Phantom") wears either a full or half-face mask to conceal a disfigurement. Some adaptations infer that his disfigurement was present from birth, whereas others infer or show it to be the result of a horrible accident such as burning from fire or chemicals. The Phantom's disfigured face is usually inferred to be factor that has caused him anguish and despair, and thus caused him to adopt the "phantom" persona.[1]
  • The DC Comics character the Joker, often a foe of Batman, possesses a clown-like grin and bleached skin/red lips/green hair that are typically described or inferred to be the result of injuries and disfigurement in most media. A common origin of his skin and hair colors revolve around chemical burns as the result of the Joker character falling into or jumping into a vat of chemicals. In Tim Burtons 1989 film adaptation of Batman, the joker character, in this version known as Jack Napier, receives his distinct "grin" as the result of a botched plastic surgery which he received after his face was badly injured from a ricocheted bullet that Napier intended to harm Batman with. In most media the Joker's mania and insanity begin as a result of him seeing his own disfigurement.[2][3][4][5]
  • The 1990 Steve Barron Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film adaptation of the same name, features a Shredder/Oroku Saki villain who hides a large scar on his cheek with a metal and mesh mask. In a flash back segment it is revealed that Saki received his scar after murdering adversary Hamato Yoshi. Yoshi's pet rat named Splinter is knocked from his cage and leaps onto Saki's face where viscously bites and claws until Saki knocks him to the ground. As revenge Saki slices off part of one of Splinter's ears. In the final battle of the film Splinter admits to Shredder that he is aware of his true identity as Saki, and Shredder in response removes his mask, touches his scars, and charges Splinter as if to kill him.[6][7][8]
  • Several enemies of fictional secret agent James Bond have been known for their distinctive facial features. An example is the North Korean criminal and terrorist Zao from the film Die Another Day, played by Rick Yune, who has partly translucent skin with thick veins shown on his face as well as numerous diamonds embedded into his skin.[9]
  • The Punisher, an antihero appearing in various Marvel Comics related works, has confronted several enemies known for their drastic facial disfigurement. A prominent example is Jigsaw, a sadist and psychopath with an incredible stamina while having no superhuman powers that has a deeply mutilated face somewhat akin to a jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps the Punisher's most iconic nemesis, he was played in 2008's Punisher: War Zone by Dominic West.[10]
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' popular rock song "Red Right Hand", first released in 1994's Let Love In, describes a nightmarish figure with a blood-red, disfigured hand (as referred to in the title).[11]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]