Disfigurement is the state of having one's appearance deeply and persistently harmed medically, as from a disease, birth defect, or wound.

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".


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 cover plastic surgery for cosmetic purposes.

The term "disfigurement" is sometimes used pejoratively to describe the results of intentional body modification.

See also

External links

  • Changing Faces - a British organization for people with facial disfigurements
  • Project Harar - a British organization helping children with facial disfigurements in Africa
  • Let's Face It - an American organization for people with facial disfigurements
  • Unique Face - a Japanese organization for people with facial disfigurements

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Disfigurement — Dis*fig ure*ment, n. 1. Act of disfiguring, or state of being disfigured; deformity. Milton. [1913 Webster] 2. That which disfigures; a defacement; a blot. [1913 Webster] Uncommon expressions . . . are a disfigurement rather than any… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • disfigurement — index defacement, flaw Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • disfigurement — 1630s, from DISFIGURE (Cf. disfigure) + MENT (Cf. ment) …   Etymology dictionary

  • disfigurement — [dis fig′yə rā′shəndis fig′yərmənt] n. 1. a disfiguring or being disfigured 2. anything that disfigures; blemish; defect; deformity: Also disfiguration [dis fig′yə rā′shən] …   English World dictionary

  • disfigurement — [[t]dɪsfɪ̱gə(r)mənt, AM gjər [/t]] disfigurements N VAR: oft supp N A disfigurement is something, for example a scar, that spoils a person s appearance. He had surgery to correct a facial disfigurement. Syn: blemish …   English dictionary

  • disfigurement — noun 1) the disfigurement of Victorian buildings Syn: defacement, spoiling, scarring, uglification, mutilation, damage, vandalizing, ruin 2) a permanent facial disfigurement Syn: blemish, flaw, defect …   Thesaurus of popular words

  • disfigurement — That which impairs or injures the beauty, symmetry, or appearance of a person or thing; that which renders unsightly, misshapen, or imperfect, or deforms in some manner. Superior Mining Co. v Industrial Com. 309 Ill 339, 141 NE 165. A change of… …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • disfigurement — disfigure ► VERB ▪ spoil the appearance of. DERIVATIVES disfiguration noun disfigurement noun …   English terms dictionary

  • disfigurement — noun 1. the act of damaging the appearance or surface of something the defacement of an Italian mosaic during the Turkish invasion he objected to the dam s massive disfigurement of the landscape • Syn: ↑defacement, ↑disfiguration • Derivationally …   Useful english dictionary

  • disfigurement — noun see disfigure …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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