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May 2013

Facial Stigmata and Their Powerful Effects in Literature and Life

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth.

JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(5):569. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.2984

Look in mine eye-balls, there thy beauty lies.
William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis, 1593

For the Greeks, the archaic definition of stigma was a distinct mark burned or cut into the skin used to identify a slave or criminal. Today, the definition does not allude to the branding of the flesh, but rather any mark on the skin which “detracts from the character or reputation of a person,”1 or simply a mark indicating “that something is not normal or standard.”1 According to psychological literature, a facial stigma can be any deforming mark: a scar, port-wine stain, neoplasm, or large nevus, for example.2 A 2012 report by Madera and Hebl3 titled “Discrimination against facially stigmatized applicants in interviews: an eye-tracking and face-to-face investigation” demonstrated for the first time the mechanism behind discrimination against those marked with a deforming facial stigma.3