Film exposes stigma faced by those with cleft conditions

Cast member Nichelle Seow (in grey) with her friends at yesterday's launch of the film, My Face. Born with a cleft lip, she had corrective surgery when she was about four to five months old. She said she gets teased and called names, but has learnt t
Cast member Nichelle Seow (in grey) with her friends at yesterday's launch of the film, My Face. Born with a cleft lip, she had corrective surgery when she was about four to five months old. She said she gets teased and called names, but has learnt to take negative comments in her stride.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Focus is not just on cleft but on all physical differences

People stare at them and ask embarrassing questions - all because they were born with a cleft condition that results in facial deformities.

A short film, titled My Face, describes the psychological and emotional challenges faced by children with cleft and craniofacial anomalies.

It was launched at Far East Square yesterday.

The film, presented by the department of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), hopes to raise awareness of the social stigma faced by those with cleft conditions.

KKH manages about 100 new cases of cleft conditions every year, said Dr Gale Lim, head and consultant at its department of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery.

The main objective of the film is to focus not just on cleft, but also on all physical differences, including acquired deformities and congenital ones, she added.

Her experience working with children with scars and deformities spurred her to initiate the project, which was filmed over two days, Dr Lim said.

"There is still a stigma because people who do not appear to look normal are still being treated unkindly."

Even family members may sometimes make insensitive remarks unintentionally, which further impact their self-esteem, she added.

Nichelle Seow, 13, can identify with the main character she plays in the short film. She said she gets teased and called names, resulting in periods of low self-esteem.

Born with a cleft lip, she had corrective surgery when she was about four to five months old and scar therapy after that. But the Secondary 1 student at Evergreen Secondary School has learnt to take negative comments in her stride.

"What's the point of letting the hate get to you?" she said.

The film can be viewed on KKH's YouTube channel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 14, 2019, with the headline 'Film exposes stigma faced by those with cleft conditions'. Print Edition | Subscribe