As an advocate for victims of facial trauma that results in serious permanent disfigurement, I am confronted with explaining why the consequences to these victims are much greater than “skin deep”.
A victim’s greatest challenge is learning to cope with the social response to their facial appearance. We are bombarded with images in movies, advertisements and social media that reinforce beauty as necessary for happiness, wealth and social acceptance. One who suffers scarring or disfigurement due to a traumatic event feels the permanent inability to reach that societal ideal regardless of how physically or emotionally beautiful they otherwise are. No amount of dieting, working out or accumulation of personal success can eliminate the disfigurement.
Depression and anxiety is common. The victim suffers a reduced self-esteem and socially withdraws. Compounding this problem is the feeling that the trauma was random, unnecessary and unfair. This results in anger, blaming others and self.
These feelings are rooted in real life facts. Others really do recoil at a disfigured face, despite trying to hide it. This reaction is an unintended biological reaction born of self preservation. Studies suggest these unintended reactions stem from an ancient disease-avoidance system that helps us to avoid becoming sick. Instinctively, we treat facial disfigurements like infectious diseases.
We instinctively feel fear as a self-preservation emotion. Fear evolved to keep us away from large animals that want to eat us from the outside. Disgust and revulsion evolved to keep us away from smaller animals that kill us from the inside, i.e., infectious diseases. Our subconscious minds constantly scan the environment for signs of potential diseases and, if we see one, disgust kicks in to avoid that like the plague. So, even though we consciously know people with disfiguring facial trauma are perfectly healthy, our subconscious minds are responding to them as if they are not.
Unfortunately, contrary to popular perception, facial scarring and disfigurement due to trauma is often times unrepairable through plastic surgery.
As an advocate representing people suffering these kinds of injuries, I have to understand that these types of injuries are more than simply skin deep but can affect how the world relates to them and they to the world.
Tony Baratta is a trial attorney in Huntingdon Valley, PA who represents clients who have been seriously injured. Tony is the founding partner of Baratta, Russell, & Baratta and a member of the Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association (BPIA). Tony is on the board for the Philadelphia VIP, a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for trial attorneys and voted one of Philadelphia’s Super Lawyers 2008-2014.