Summary: A new study scrutinizes the portrayal of characters with facial disfigurements in films, revealing inherent cultural biases and potential psychological benefits of plastic surgery.
Researchers analyzed 48 characters from 45 films, finding that 80% of characters with facial disfigurements were negatively depicted. Interestingly, characters who underwent successful plastic surgery to improve their facial appearance were eight times more likely to have happy endings.
This outcome mirrors real-world evidence of the positive psychological effects of plastic surgery.
Researchers analyzed characters with facial disfigurements in 45 films, with 80% of these characters portrayed negatively as demonic, villainous, or violent.
In these films, characters who underwent successful plastic surgery were eight times more likely to have a positive outcome or happy ending.
The study’s findings align with real-world evidence suggesting that facial plastic surgery can enhance overall well-being and self-confidence for individuals with facial disfigurements.
Source: Wolters Kluwer Health
Characters with facial disfigurement have long been a recurring theme in films. Their characteristics and outcomes lend insights into perceptions of facial deformities and the effects of plastic surgery, reports a study in The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery .
Movie characters who undergo successful plastic surgery to improve their facial appearance are more likely to have happy endings, according to the new research by Young Suk Kim, BA, and Kun Hwang, MD, Ph.D., of Armed Forces Capital Hospital, Gyeonggi-do, Korea.
They believe their findings relate to the cultural meanings of facial disfigurement, as well as to the psychological benefits of facial plastic surgery.
Film analysis shows negative associations with facial disfigurement
The researchers searched movie databases—IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and TMDB (The Movie Database)—to identify modern visual media depicting characters with disfigured faces. The analysis included 48 characters from 45 films directly related to the theme of facial disfiguration. While most films were from the United States, countries around the world were represented.
The movies were produced between the 1930s to the 2020s, with the highest proportion (20%) from the 1980s. Nearly three-fourths of characters were rated as being in the most severe categories of facial disfigurement. Examples of films with characters having “critical” facial disfigurement included “The Elephant Man” and “Mask.”
About 80% of disfigured characters were viewed as negative, described by terms such as demonic, villainous, or violent. Just 20% were described positively—for example, hero or human.
“This seems to implicitly reflect the creators’ biased view that presents disfigured faces in a negative light,” the researchers write. After adjustment for other factors, society’s perceptions of disfigured faces were not related to their effect on personality.
Rather, the authors suggest, “a negative personality was formed due to psychological atrophy and self-esteem problems, not the disfigured face itself.”
Surgery to improve facial appearance linked to happy endings
In the films, 35% of characters underwent surgery in an attempt to overcome their facial disfigurement. Other types of attempts included masks or magic. The attempts improved the character’s facial appearance in about 70% of cases, including 94% of those who underwent surgery. Characters who underwent surgery were 56 times more likely to improve than those who tried other treatments.
Overall, 67% of characters had fortunate or happy endings, while the rest had misfortunate endings. Characters whose appearance improved were more likely to have happy endings: nearly eight times more likely than those who did not improve.
The researchers add, “It is notable that some characters experienced misfortune even though their facial damage improved, while others became happy without improvement.”
The authors discuss their findings in the context of the cultural and psychological meanings of facial disfigurement. The association between successful surgery and happy endings for characters with facial disfigurement is consistent with evidence on the positive psychological effects of plastic surgery for disfigured individuals.
Despite its many risks and side effects, “there is no doubt that facial plastic surgery enhances overall well-being and self-confidence,” the researchers conclude. “The results of this film analysis study, which showed plastic surgery can improve the face and improve quality of life, can be seen as realistic and statistically significant.”
According to the German sociologist Georg Simmel, of all the parts of the body, the face has the highest degree of inner unity. This study aimed to analyze the depictions of disfigured faces in modern visual media (movie films).
The keywords “disfigured-face” and “disfigured-face character” were searched on Google. Based on that information, 57 films were searched on IMDB and TMDB, as movie databases. Six films where the IMDB and TMDB overlapped were omitted, and 6 films not directly related to the concept of “disfigured face” were excluded. All animated movies were replaced with the original movies.
Then, 45 valid films were finally selected, and 48 characters with disfigured faces were analyzed. Among 48 disfigured faces, 26 were in male characters and 22 were in female characters. Among the 48 disfigured faces, 30 (62.5%) did not improve and 18 (37.5%) improved. Characters who underwent facial deformity correction surgery were 56 times more likely to improve than those who did not.
Characters whose facial disfiguration improved were 7.85 times more likely to have a happy ending than those who did not. Among the methods that the characters with disfigured faces used in attempts to overcome their deformity, surgery had the highest success rate. Although surgery is not perfect, the reality is that there are no other alternatives.
The results of our film analysis study, which showed plastic surgery can improve the face and improve quality of life, can be seen as realistic and statistically significant.