THE first few years at primary school for David Green were anything but easy.

Called names by his peers due to a skin condition, at one point the youngster no longer wanted to go.

However, the 12-year-old overcame the bullying and is now speaking out as part of a campaign which highlights the devastating impact having a disfigurement can have on children and young people.

Glasgow Times:
To coincide with Anti-Bullying Week, charity Changing Faces, has released new research which shows three-quarters (76 per cent) of children with a visible difference say they have felt worried or anxious, and over half of children with a visible difference admit they feel lonely (56 per cent), compared to 43 per cent of their peers.

Young campaigners from the charity are calling on parents, teachers and other young people to celebrate difference and be a better ally to anyone experiencing appearance-related bullying.

Changing Faces young champion David, from Glasgow, who has appeared in a film to highlight issues, said: “The first few years of primary school were hard. The other children called me names such as ‘cornflakes, scabby, snowflake and flaky’. One boy would keep picking on me, pointing out the flakes on my jumper in a nasty way. In dance lessons no one would hold my hand.

“I didn’t want to go to school anymore but my teachers sorted it out really quickly. Then everyone understood my condition and wanted to be my friend. People need to understand that their words can hurt. If more young people were encouraged to celebrate difference, then children wouldn’t feel lonely and worried about looking different.”

Independent research agency, CHILDWISE, surveyed more than 2,000 children aged seven-16 years old and almost half (46 per cent) said they had a mark, scar or skin condition that made them look different. This is equivalent to more than 3.5 million children and young people throughout the UK self-identifying as having a visible difference.

Becky Hewitt, Chief Executive, Changing Faces says: “Children and young people with visible differences tell us that they feel isolated and excluded, never seeing anyone who looks like them portrayed in a positive way. Far too often visible differences become the focus of bullying. 

“This year has been a particularly anxious time. Children receiving support from our specialist mental health and wellbeing team reported fears about returning to school and college post-lockdown, knowing the stares, comments and bullying would start all over again.” 

The research also reveals that two-thirds (66 per cent) of children with a visible difference fear they are not good enough. While over half (52 per cent) of children feel the way they look holds them back, compared to just a third (36 per cent) of their peers.

This Anti-Bullying Week has the theme, United Against Bullying, and Changing Faces is calling on children, young people, teachers, and parents to change the way they think about visible differences.

For other young people the bullying can go on for years. Changing Faces campaigner, Jenny McGibbon, who was born prematurely with a birth defect known as Gastroschisis, and now lives with a scar across her abdomen, no belly button, and several chronic health problems.

Glasgow Times:

Ms McGibbon, 26, from Stirlingshire, said: “For a decade, aged seven to seventeen, I was bullied for my visible difference. I was dragged around the playground by my hair, cornered in bathrooms and had clothing removed without consent. People gawked and whispered and touched. Sometimes I’d receive verbal abuse about it on the bus in the morning; I hadn’t even entered the school grounds yet.

“Being bullied at school impacts your education; a time in life that shapes the adult you might turn into. I’m speaking out because I believe everyone deserves to feel respected. Every environment you’re in should be a safe one. Whether that’s school, work, the changing room or the street. You’re deserving of that.”

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