A woman born with a genetic disorder that left her with a facial disfigurement has urged people to speak out about bullying.

Emma Easton, 33, of Huddersfield, who was born with Char syndrome which affects the structure of the face and nose, was repeatedly subjected to bullying because of her appearance.

It’s Anti-Bullying Week 2022 this week and the theme is “reach out” – but Emma believes you shouldn’t wait for a special week – it’s ALWAYS the right time to reach out. 

Emma, a campaigner for the charity Changing Faces, said: “When I was bullied, I lost myself in a very dark place, because I couldn’t see a time when I wouldn’t get bullied. I thought it would follow me into higher education and then into the workplace.

“Thankfully I was wrong, and I’ve managed to find the better days. It’s a journey that is made by taking very small steps, and it’s not always linear. Sometimes it feels like you’ve hit a dead end, but you can always follow your steps back and try again.

“I’ve always found at my darkest points that the people in my life shine the brightest. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel and ask for help.

“Being bullied takes a lot out of you but never let it take your hope. There are people out there who understand and care about you.”

Emma Easton

No matter when a person was bullied or how old they are now, Changing Faces believes that it’s never too late to speak about and get support to help you manage the impact of those experiences.

Changing Faces wants everyone across the UK with a visible difference or disfigurement to have access to the support they need, whether that’s wellbeing services or a community of like-minded people who understand their experiences.

Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for anyone with a disfigurement or visible difference, which is a scar, mark or condition on the face or body.

In 2021, it released research carried out with ChildWise, which highlighted the worrying impact that having a visible difference can have on children and young people.

Revealing that one in three (31%) of those surveyed with a visible difference had received mean comments relating to their appearance, and for almost a quarter (24%) of these respondents it had escalated to bullying, the research shone a spotlight on the negativity that children and young people with a visible difference experience day-to-day.

Reaching out is often the first step towards a brighter future for many people with a visible difference. It can be lonely never seeing anyone who looks like you in the playground or in the media, but organisations such as Changing Faces can help people feel less alone.

Changing Faces knows that education is key to ending bullying for people with a visible difference for good. The earlier children learn to celebrate what makes us unique, the more accepting they’ll be as they grow up. The charity has a range of classroom and assembly resources to support teachers in promoting acceptance, as well as having created a list of inclusive book, TV and toy recommendations for parents and children with the help of its campaigners and ambassadors.

Heather Blake, chief executive at Changing Faces, said: “Bullying isn’t just a childish act, it can impact a person’s self-esteem and confidence for many years. Taking that first step towards overcoming the impact of bullying doesn’t have a time limit, and Changing Faces is here to listen whenever you feel ready to talk.

“We speak out and campaign to challenge the bullying and discrimination faced by too many people who have a visible difference.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to a point where people with a visible difference no longer have to reach out because of bullying, but until then, it’s vital that they get the support they need.”

Anyone dealing with the impact of bullying due to a visible difference is being signposted to the Changing Faces Support & Information Line service who can listen and direct people to the best support for them.

Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for everyone who has a scar, mark or condition that makes them look different. For advice or support see www.changingfaces.org.uk or call 0300 012 0275.