This individual suffers from hand eczema, which causes much harm to the skin.

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. Alternatively, many societies have regarded some forms of disfigurement in a medical, scientific context where someone having ill will against the disfigured is viewed as anathema. In various religious and spiritual contexts, disfigurement has been variously described as being as a punishment from the divine for sin (such as Yahweh's defacement of Cain for Abel's murder in Judaism), as being (such as Paul of the New Testament's arguments about Christ's sufferings) caused by supernatural forces of hate and evil against the good and just, which will be later atoned for, or as being without explanation per se with people just having to endure.

The topic has been frequently commented on and referred to in a great many forms of fictional media as well. Villainous examples include the iconic fiend The Joker from various DC Comics and the mysterious figure with a "red right hand" from the song of the same name by band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Heroic examples include Daredevil, a crime-fighter who was rendered blind (from Marvel Comics), and the compassionate character Edward Scissorhands from the film of the same name.


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".


This individual has been disfigured by the effects of the Hiroshima bombing, with radiation poisoning causing much visible damage.

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 generally cover plastic surgery for what is labeled as "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. Many types of body modification are subject to strong social debate as such.

Disfigurement in fiction

Lon Chaney's version of "Erik" in the 1925 film The Phantom of the Opera had pervasive facial disfigurements, including jagged teeth and sunken-in eyes.

See also


Look up disfigurement in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

External links

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