Thursday, July 18, 2013

a cleft on the big screen

With Bailey starting preschool this fall, I have had some random here and there thoughts about her cleft and other kids. It's not something I am actually worried about; it's more that I want to be prepared. And more importantly, I want her to be prepared.

In this age of bullying and pressure to fit in, Bailey has a visible difference from other kids. No matter that it is relatively small and many people don't notice it now - someone is going to. In fact, kids already have.

Just last week I was babysitting two boys: a 9 year-old and a 2 year-old.
(I will be watching the 2 year-old Jace and his new sister Mia when school starts this fall.)
We were playing outside in the backyard, checking out Baxter the bunny. Carter (the 9 year-old) was talking to Bailey and all of the sudden said, "What's with your lip?"
Bailey wasn't quite sure how to respond. She quietly touched her upper lip and didn't say anything. She looked up at me.
I said to Bailey, "Remember? That's your special scar that we talk about."
She smiled and said, "Oh yeah, my scar!"

I was able to explain to Carter that Bailey was born looking different than other babies because her lip just didn't grow together like it was supposed to. He  listened to my explanation, and when I asked if he wanted to see a picture of what she looked like when she was very little, he eagerly said yes. He looked at her pictures, asking appropriate questions about her surgeries and if she could eat from a bottle. 
And he kept repeating "She was one lucky baby."
She was. And so were we. 

She wasn't the baby I'd been picturing for months as she grew in my belly; God had other plans.
Parts of her early life sucked:
NICU time. Pumping. Surgeries. Bottles with so many freakin' parts.
Any there will be more challenges:
Missing teeth. More surgeries. Teasing. Braces.
But even with all of it, I don't really think about her cleft. I don't spend time wishing I could make it go away. I don't worry much about the future surgeries or expense. I don't waste my time on this thing I cannot change. It's part of who she is. And our girl is just perfect the way she is.
I do spend time reading blogs and online boards and websites devoted to clefts with the hope that I can garner some much-needed knowledge on how to best equip Bailey with the confidence and information she needs to live in a world that very much judges us on our looks rather than our hearts.

With that in mind, it saddened me to see that Disney's new movie "The Lone Ranger" gave its main villain (Butch Cavendish) a cleft lip for the purpose of making him seem more evil. This wasn't an actor who already had scar. They purposefully gave him a dental prosthetic which forced his lip into a cleft-like position.

A direct quote from Disney's movie website:
"Cavendish is a ruthless outlaw whose terribly scarred face is a perfect reflection of the bottomless pit that passes for his soul."

The only scar I am really seeing is the one above his lip. Just a cleft scar and a lot of wrinkles. In an interview the actor said that the scar and make-up made it extremely easy to slip into the role of this "soulless villain."

Now, I am not a letter-writer. I don't send letters to my senator or protest things. (I leave that to Jared, who happens to really enjoy a strongly worded letter.) But this did disappoint me. One cleft scar and some wrinkles translates to a soulless outlaw? It just seems a poor way to establish characterization. Wouldn't a scar on his face or eye or cheek have been just as effective to help us make the leap to yep, he is the bad guy ?
Would Disney have used another "disability" or birth defect to build characterization - to show other characters as inferior, stupid, or slow?

And maybe I am being overly sensitive on the issue, but to me it seems simply unnecessary. I think the bad teeth, unwashed hair, and crazy eyes are more than enough to help me figure out which side this character is on, especially since most heroes don't usually appear on screen looking as if they haven't had a bath in years.
I am probably not going to see the movie, most likely because I wasn't ever going to in the first place. And I am not crying any tears over the reported poor ticket sales either.

The decision to use a cleft lip to portray villainy seems in poor taste for Disney - a company whose movies I have loved since early childhood. (Loved me some Little Mermaid!) And speaking of childhood, one out of every 700 babies is born with a cleft, making it one of the most common birth defects.
A lot of little kids watch and love Disney movies, including my own. And while I realize this movie is not aimed toward small children, the intent of using a cleft lip to add to the "evilness" of a character is not helping my innocent 3 year-old. She will be facing enough teasing and perhaps bullying down the road without a major film studio adding to it.

1 comment:

  1. Carlota AKA CarrieJuly 22, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    I hope you got my other comment, it seems to have disappeared...but dunno if that means you're gonna see it anyway and have to approve it or what! anyway, just saw your pictures and saw your little bailey! she is adorable! I am a right sided cleft too!!! so just wanna say hi and hopefully you see this! dunno how to leave a message for you other than here, but if you wanna talk to a grown up cleft just msg me at

    cheers! xx


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