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What Is a Disfigurement?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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Disfigurement is a condition in which an individual's physical appearance has been significantly and noticeably damaged. A person can be disfigured by an illness, birth defect, or an accident, and although disfigurement can happen to any part of the body, it is often associated with parts of the body that are apparent to the public, such as the face or limbs. An individual may also be said to be disfigured if her body posture or gait is afflicted by a medical condition such that it differs significantly from that of others. When a person experiences this condition, he may have difficulty in coping with issues surrounding body image and the way he is perceived by others. Disfigured people may had a difficult time developing interpersonal relationships and may likewise have difficulty achieving professional success. Some areas of medicine, such as plastic surgery and dermatology, have made great strides in treating individuals living with disfiguring conditions and helping to reintegrate them into society.

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In some cultures, disfigurement may be considered a sign of being cursed or have other negative connotations that can subject disfigured individuals to severe social and religious discrimination and exclusion, even within their own families. Even in countries that do not regard disfigurement as having any bearing on individual's internal character or spiritual situation, an affected person may find herself marginalized as other people have what is often an unconscious negative reaction to her condition. Both disfigured children and adults may experience taunting and harassment as a result of their different appearance. It may also be difficult for disfigured individuals to successfully pursue romantic relationships, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Even in places where anti-discrimination laws may forbid employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their disfigurement, it may still be difficult for an individual with impaired physical appearance to do well professionally, particularly if the position that he holds involves significant interaction with the public.

In coping with the social and psychological fallout of disfigurement, many affected individuals may seek out psychotherapy as well as both specialized medical and cosmetic help. Dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and orthopedists can work to minimize disfigurement, while medical aestheticians can help individuals camouflage disfiguring conditions with the use of cosmetics. In addition to these resources, counseling and psychotherapy may be able to assist individuals with developing self-esteem and coping with issues such as depression.

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Fa5t3r
Post 3

@pleonasm - The interesting thing is that it's not always cut and dried. It mentions in the article that people are often shunned because they are born different, or are maimed later in life by injury or disease. And that is definitely what usually happens.

But there have also been cases where children with extra limbs or odd skin or whatever have been thought of as signs of good fortune, usually because they resemble a particular god or spirit.

I'm sure those people wouldn't consider it a disfigurement, even though these differences are rarely beneficial health-wise.

pleonasm
Post 2

@KoiwiGal - You make a good point, but I think that kind of thing can go too far. If you are born with a cleft palate, for example, that is going to seriously diminish your quality of life. It is a disfigurement because it disfigures what would otherwise be a healthy human body.

I think we should be careful about what we label as disfiguration, but I also think we should call a spade a spade when it makes sense to do so.

KoiwiGal
Post 1

I don't like this term being applied to birth defects, because it implies that the person is less than normal and that might not be the case. A facial disfigurement that was there from birth is just a part of who that person is. It's not something that happened to them. It's what they are.

You could call having blonde hair a disfigurement too, if you insist that black hair is the norm. There is no norm for the human body is what I'm trying to say. Only the norm for an individual. And yes, if you have a finger chopped off, that is most definitely deviating from what you would consider to be normal, so go ahead and call that a disfigurement. But if you were born with fewer fingers than the average, I don't think you should call it a disfigurement.

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