Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Earlier I flagged up the BBC article by Vicky Lucas, who has the genetic condition, cherubism.

This evening she was interviewed during a BBC documentary, What Are You Staring At?, about facial disfigurement.

It was a fascinating programme but I found myself disagreeing quite strongly with Vicky Lucas's point of view. Her argument was, in brief, that it's wrong for society to believe that the only thing for people with facial disfigurements is to undergo cosmetic surgery. It's society that should change, she kept arguing, not the disfigured individuals concerned.

Which is fine as far as it goes. If she as an individual is comfortable with the way she looks and doesn't feel the need for surgery then that's fantastic. But as the programme made clear, many people with disfigurements don't feel comfortable -- and it's naive in the extreme to expect the world to suddenly become a caring sharing place where everyone's treated equally regardless of gender, colour, sexuality or "disability." If only it were that simple.

My situation is very different but in some ways connected. Before I got my prosthetic and I was in a wheelchair I fully expected some people to stare at my missing leg. I wasn't disappointed, they did, but I could understand why. It's human nature to be curious, to focus on other peoples' differences.

Now I've got the prosthesis things are somewhat easier. Under a pair of trousers it's fairly unobtrusive. But on days like today, when I went out wearing shorts, some people did a double take.

Fine. Let them. I'd probably do the same.

Do I think society should suddenly embrace people with artificial limbs to such an extent that seeing a fibreglass and metal contraption where a leg should be doesn't cause so much as a flicker of interest? It'd be nice -- but it's not going to happen.

The fact is that most people don't have an artificial limb, just as most people don't have facial disfigurements. Lucky for them. But given that we're in the minority, some degree of curiosity is inevitable.

That's not to say that I condone discrimination. That's a different issue entirely. I just think there's no point asking the question "what are you staring at?" -- because the answer's very obvious.



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