Having physical deformities is hard enough without the wider society being judgmental or willfully ignorant about it.
Did you know that a majority of physical deformities occur congenitally (i.e. at or before birth)?
Did you know that birth defects affect more than 96 million people worldwide as of 2015?
Did you know that the mental health of people with physical deformities is intrinsically linked to society?
Physical deformities and disabilities have become a familiar part of our communities and societies, with their occurrences linked to genetic, socio-economic and environmental factors. In-turn, the presence of a physical deformity or disability is intrinsically linked to mental health and wellbeing.
For example, deformities of the face are easily noticed, and usually caused by exposure to toxic substances during pregnancy – such as sleeping pills, chemicals in drinking water or an overdose of Vitamin A.
A study by Dey et al. found that having facial deformities negatively affects social conversations as individuals are less comfortable talking with people who have facial lesions or abnormalities. Similarly, having a limb or bodily deformity impacts how the person is viewed socially and as a result cause them to feel detached from their community.
Not only does this play a huge role in the person’s self-esteem, but it also shapes their self-perception, confidence level, doubts and insecurities. This individual may even grow up feeling unaccepted by society and find it difficult to form trusting relationships with others.
Another example is having a sex development disorder, where the development of the intimate areas of the body are abnormal on a genetic/physical level. Having lack of nutritious foods, living in a heavily polluted area, or being exposed to tobacco smoke and high levels of radiation can be a risk factor for developing such deformities. Some people can even be born with ambiguous genitalia (i.e. external genitals that are not clearly male or female), which can lead them to become dissatisfied with their body, and experience gender-identity problems, anxiety-related disorders and shame – according to a 2019 research paper.
Having physical deformities is hard enough on these individuals, without the wider society being judgmental or willfully ignorant about it.
So, what are some of the ways in which we can be sensitive and respectful towards people with physical deformities and disabilities?
– Check your stare: It is advisable not to keep staring at the person’s disfigurement or deformity, but at the same time don’t be shy or weird about making eye contact. This shows that you are acknowledging them, and treating them as you would any other individual that you socialise with.
– Don’t assume: A natural instinct when meeting someone with a physical deformity is to feel bad for them or pity them – and this shows in our words and actions. Doing this undermines their strength and makes them feel like a weak victim. So, don’t assume that their life is a tragedy because they probably have worked through the tough emotions and are in a good place in their lives.
– Use your questions: Living with deformities and disabilities can become part of a normal routine, so asking questions is more respectful than trying to provide for their every need. For instance, asking ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’ or ‘Do you want me to get that for you?’ is a better option as it shows them that you think they are more than capable, and it also ensures you are a less of a hindrance to them.
Remember, Allah (SWT) has created us all in to be unique and diverse:
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Indeed, the most honourable of you with Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Omniscient, All-Aware.”Qur’an 49:13
This verse above shows us that He does not judge on the basis of looks or presence of deformities, but rather on our niyyat (intention), fitrah (nature) and taqwa (God-consciousness).
The question that is often asked with regards to physical deformities is: ‘How do we handle our reactions without offending the other person?’ Well, the NHS UK website has a very informative page advising on how to use positive body language and respectful responses in these situations.
Have you had any such experience that you would like to share?