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What Are You Staring At?: Vicky Lucas responds

by Victoria Lucas

28th August 2003

The other week I featured in What Are You Staring At?, a BBC documentary on the subject of facial disfigurement.
I talked about my personal decision not to have plastic surgery and why I felt it was important that we also looked at society's prejudice towards us, rather than just concentrating on trying to 'fix' or 'cure' our faces. To put it simply, my attitude was "Yeah, let's look at the medical options and if people want surgery, that's fine. But let's also look at building up their self-esteem. And wouldn't it be nice if we also worked at making a more tolerant society too?"

Since then, I've had a huge response - some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it so downright nasty that I've spent the past fortnight plotting revenge. So I've written this article. OK, it's not so much 'bloody vengeance' as 'mild rant', but at least I get paid.

I'll start with the TV reviews. The day after the broadcast, I was surprised to discover that it was a picture of my unique face spread across many of the TV review pages. Odd considering the main subject of the programme was actually a plastic surgeon. Why didn't they print pictures of his face? I know mine's more interesting, but it did leave me feeling slightly used. And it was the same horrible photograph every single time! Ouch are probably using it to illustrate this feature (Um, she's right; I'm blushing now - Ed). For the visually impaired amongst you, it shows a chinny bint with dark blonde hair and a look of desperation.

One TV review even ended with the classic line:
"... it was a documentary you spent an awful lot of time not actually watching. And more time thinking 'There but for the grace of God ...'"
Yep, drag God into it, why dontcha!?

I was already feeling pretty annoyed, and then I discovered some rather dodgy stuff about me on the internet. After typing my name into Google (come on, we've all done it), I discovered a website messageboard debating whether I looked more like the funny-looking bloke from The Goonies (or was it The Goodies?) or Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. Personally, I think I bare more resemblance to Buzz Lightyear. I can even do a nifty "To infinity and beyond!" But even so, it hardly makes a girl feel good about herself.

So you can imagine the state I was in when I later heard about the remarks made about my face by the producer of a show presented by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on London indie radio station XFM.

I did consider whether it was ethical - and legal - to write about what they said. Should I really criticise them in such a public way? After all, I don't know what these men are like in real life. They could be quite nice actually! But then I remembered that they'd made fun of me live on air for thousands of people to hear ... so I thought, sod the lot of 'em!

What happened was this. After jokes about the Elephant Man, Pop Idol's Rik Waller and 'little midget fellas', the conversation turned to the documentary. To paraphrase, the show's producer, Karl Pilkington, said, "I saw that documentary ... it made me go 'aaah' ... it makes you realise that when you talk about people on the radio, they are real people who hear what you say."

One of the presenters said, "When do you ever forget they are real people that we talk about?"

To which Karl Pilkington replied, "Sometimes it's hard 'cos they don't look like real people ... that girl was on with the big head ... like Bo Selecta!" This was followed by much laughter from the presenters.

Bo Selecta, for those who don't know, is a Channel 4 comedy show featuring large caricature masks of celebrities. The masks often have bulging eyes and large chins, hence the delightful comparison to me.

Not since I appeared on ITV's This Morning two years ago and had Richard Madeley ask me live on telly if I go on dates, have I been so thoroughly insulted!

Unlike Rik Waller, I'm not a celebrity with a management company to protect me. And unlike the Elephant Man, I'm not dead! I'm a living, breathing human being who hurts, and the Bo Selecta remark hurt like hell. As for the big head jibe, I'll let that one go because I'm the first to admit that not only did I fall out of the funny tree and hit every branch on the way down, but I also climbed back up and built a treehouse.

What also makes me angry is the 'joke' that those of us who look different from the norm are not 'real' people. Well, I'm very real. And if I don't get a grovelling apology pretty soon, I will personally go down to the XFM headquarters and ... well, I'll leave that up to your imaginations.

So that's the response I've had. Like I said, there's been good stuff too. But the bad stuff stinks. Does it put me off being interviewed on the telly again? No. I still think TV has the potential to help challenge society's crappy attitudes about disability.

Neither has it changed my mind about not wanting plastic surgery. I might look like Jabba the Hutt, I may even look like the bloke from Bo Selecta, but I'm afraid, Mr Pilkington, that the chin is very much here to stay ...
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