I use the word ‘disfigurement’ a lot in my writing, in my volunteer work, and in conversation even though it’s a word I’m not particularly keen on, given its negative connotations.
Changing Faces, the charity I volunteer for, uses ‘disfigurement’ as a noun (i.e. a person with/who has a disfigurement) but avoids it as an adjective (i.e. a disfigured person). I may have a disfigurement, but it doesn’t define me.
Some people prefer terms like ‘facial difference’ or ‘unusual appearance,’ but personally I find these too vague to be of much use. After all, everyone’s face is different.
Looking up the word ‘disfigurement’ in numerous dictionaries, the most common definition I found was disfigurement as something that ‘spoils’ a person’s appearance.
But who determines whether something or other spoils someone’s appearance? Can appearance be objectively measured?
It turns out that there is no universally shared understanding of what constitutes a disfigurement, just as there’s no universal definition of what is ‘normal.’
It’s all largely a matter of interpretation.
I recently came across an article on facial disfigurement, which argued that the definition of disfigurement is culturally determined; therefore, a disfigurement is only a disfigurement if cultural prejudices deem it so.
Understood this way, the degree of facial disfigurement is determined by the strength of negative reactions it provokes in others.
Absent the negative reactions, a facial difference is simply a difference and not a disfigurement.