SMILE Train UK – the world’s largest cleft charity has released a series of unfiltered images celebrating the beauty and diversity in smiles, to support their new nationwide campaign, Beauty in Every Smile.
Captured by London-based photographer Fanny Beckman, who is renowned for using art to raise awareness of social injustice and inequalities, the images feature 12 cleft-affected people from across the UK, who have come to love their smiles after facing stigma, mistreatment and/or discrimination as a result of their facial difference.
Launched for World Smile Day® which was on 6th October, the images were showcased on giant 2-metre-high panels in a public exhibition on London’s busy South Bank, from Thursday 5 October to Saturday 7 October.
Nishchala Chitradurga (23, London), who was born with a cleft and features in the exhibition, said:
“When I was younger, I experienced bullying. At school, children would call me names and make fun of my appearance because of my cleft, which was hurtful and challenging to deal with. And it wasn’t just at school; even random strangers would make hurtful comments about the scars on my face from my surgeries.
“But over time, and with the support of my loved ones, I began to realise that my smile was a unique part of who I am. I learned to appreciate my smile as a symbol of resilience and strength. It became a source of pride rather than insecurity. So, to all those with a unique smile, I offer this advice: Embrace your uniqueness and wear it like a boss.”
Commenting on the exhibition images, Fanny Beckman, said:
“Beauty in Every Smile has truly been a dream project to work on. Smile Train UK’s work is very much in line with my ethos and what I want to achieve with my photography: to raise awareness of stories that historically have been untold. Art is a powerful tool to use to start conversations, and I’ve been fortunate to meet many inspiring people during the photoshoots. I am grateful to all the models for sharing their experiences, and for removing the stigma around being born with a cleft.”
Smile Train UK also worked with a video production agency, to create an emotive 2-minute video which tells the stories of four cleft-affected individuals – Dr Kiran Rahim (37), Christian Hadjipateras (39), Heidi Salt (20) and Elouan Biwole (14) – who are all featured in the exhibition.
A cleft is a facial difference that occurs when a baby’s lip and/or mouth do not fuse together during pregnancy. One in 700 people are born with a cleft in the UK each year – and every three minutes a baby is born with a cleft globally
Sadly, research recently carried out by Smile Train UK – in partnership with Censuswide – found that over a third (34%) of people living with a facial difference in the UK (including cleft) have been discriminated against or have heard negative comments said about them. Three in ten (30%) have also been bullied. As a result, more than a quarter have felt self-conscious (29%), unhappy (28%), embarrassed (28%), unwanted (26%) – and even depressed (27%).
These feelings of self-consciousness don’t just impact people with a facial difference. According to Smile Train UK’s survey, over half (53%) of the wider public are yet to fully love their smile. And sadly, only 18% of the nation thinks their smile is beautiful.
Interestingly, approximately a quarter (24%) of the public surveyed said they would love their smile more if they were told it was beautiful. For one in ten, a greater understanding of differences and uniqueness in society would have a positive impact on the way they view their smile too.
In response to these findings, Smile Train has launched the Beauty in Every Smile campaign, to inspire more ‘smile inclusivity’ in the UK and to encourage people to see the beauty in their own unique smiles.
Ian Vallance, Director at Smile Train UK, said:
“Our recent research has found that stigma and mistreatment is impacting the happiness and self-confidence of those living in the UK with a facial difference, including cleft.
“At Smile Train we believe every smile is beautiful. By learning more about differences, celebrating diversity in society, and welcoming a more inclusive mindset, we can help to break down these outdated stigmas.
“With support from the wonderfully talented Fanny Beckman and our amazing cleft community, we hope that our new campaign – Beauty in Every Smile – will inspire more smile inclusivity and self-acceptance, creating lots of new smiles in the process.”
In the UK, people born with a cleft will receive treatment immediately and for free on the NHS. However, in other countries around the world, those born with the condition don’t have the financial resources for treatment. Without treatment, they will experience difficulties with eating, breathing, speaking, hearing and ultimately thriving.
Smile Train UK is championing smile inclusivity, by encouraging more people to see the beauty in the smiles of others – as well as their own. Because there’s Beauty in Every Smile. Please visit: www.smiletrain.org.uk/beautyineverysmile to learn more.