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Conservative peer suggests beauty industry's perfectionism fuels abuse of people with disfigurements

Phoebe Southworth
Baroness Williams of Trafford spoke about discrimination on Face Equality Day  - AFP

A Conservative peer has criticised the beauty industry, suggesting its "obsession with perfection" is fuelling social media abuse of people with disfigurements.

Minister for Equalities Baroness Williams of Trafford called for tougher regulation of websites so vulnerable people are not targeted by internet trolls.

She spoke out after data collected by charity Changing Faces showed that 58 per cent of people who look different have experienced hostile behaviour from strangers.

The charity's revealing report, titled 'My Visible Difference', was published on Wednesday as part of Face Equality Day, which aims to give a voice to people with a visible difference and combat discrimination against them.

Changing Faces, which supports people who have a mark, scar or condition which alters their appearance, hosted a panel discussion on the findings chaired by The Telegraph’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, Asif Sadiq.

Baroness Williams said during the talk: "We are all different and look different from each other, and why should that be an issue?

"There's an obsession in the beauty industry with perfection and many girls have got such a distorted perception of what beauty and perfection looks like."

She added: "Some of the comments on social media are utterly disgusting. What is a criminal act offline should have the same teeth online."

At least 1.3 million people in the UK have significant disfigurements, including 569,000 with facial disfigurements.

Changing Faces' survey of more than 1,000 people with a visible difference revealed that they are frequently stared at, pointed at and even have their photo involuntarily taken while they are out in public.

The charity's research also found that:

  • 58% have experienced hostile behaviour from strangers
  • 27% say they are regularly ignored by shop assistants
  • 29% feel depressed or anxious because of their visible difference  
  • 23% feel self-conscious or embarrassed going out in public

Changing Faces is calling on 20 brands to sign up to their Pledge To Be Seen campaign which encourages companies to feature more people with visible differences in their beauty commercials.

Cosmetics giant Avon was the first brand to sign the charity's pledge.

It is also asking for schools, employers and police to work to reduce the stigma surrounding people who look different and tackle discrimination where it exists.

Becky Hewitt, CEO of Changing Faces, told The Telegraph: “People with a visible difference deserve to live the life they want, but are still facing multiple challenges. They are vulnerable to isolation, loneliness, social anxiety and low self-esteem. They face staring, harassment, bullying and hate crime.

“We need to act now to challenge stigma and prejudice, including in the workplace. The findings in our report show there’s still much to be done to increase awareness and education amongst employers. We want to work with more businesses and help them create the right training for their teams.”