Marking the face, curing the soul? : reading the disfigurement of women in the later Middle Ages

The facial disfigurement of women, whether through deliberate mutilation, accidental injury or the ravages of disease, was and still is a subject that evokes strong reactions, both positive (sympathy for the victim, attempts at rehabilitation and/or reconstruction of the damaged features, psychologi...

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Main Author: Skinner, Patricia
Format: eBook
Language:English
Published: Suffolk (UK) Boydell & Brewer 2015, 2015
Subjects:
Online Access:
Collection: National Center for Biotechnology Information - Collection details see MPG.ReNa
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520 |a The facial disfigurement of women, whether through deliberate mutilation, accidental injury or the ravages of disease, was and still is a subject that evokes strong reactions, both positive (sympathy for the victim, attempts at rehabilitation and/or reconstruction of the damaged features, psychological counselling) and negative (shock or repulsion at the appearance of the victim, the passing of judgement or calculation of fault that led to the disfigurement, her rejection from the community). Whilst men, too, might suffer traumatic facial damage, the gendered assumption that a woman valued and was valued for her beauty (regardless of the number of onlookers permitted to see her face) was and still is a strong element in the habitus of many communities. Our evolution as human beings has led us to scrutinise the face before all other features, to determine community membership (is s/he one of us?), recognition (who is s/he?), likely reception (is s/he friendly?) and subjective value (is s/he pleasing to the eye?). Any disruption of the facial features confuses such signals, and may even send out misleading ones to the viewer (for example, if features are missing, or paralysis or disease limits facial expressions). The equation of beauty with good, and ugliness with evil is a powerful idea