I remember as a child being warned by my mother and father not to get into cars driven by anyone other than the person designated to pick me up from school that day. And I was most definitely warned to not get in any car driven by any strange men. If any of you remember Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, a series of slightly spooky programmes that aired on telly in the ‘80’s, there is an episode where a young girl goes missing on the way home from school. The villain in the story is the friendly old lady who ‘rescues’ the young girl from the creepy old guy. This one programme spooked my mother so much I remember being warned about every single person, nice or strange looking, male or female that I might come across.
It is interesting therefore that the September issue of the British Journal of Dermatology has an article on skin disorders in villains, not only those portrayed in the movies but also in classical and modern fiction.
[Plachouri KM, Georgiou S. Not only a Hollywood trend: the dermatological features of villains in classic and contemporary literature. Br J Dermatol 2019; 181: 592.]
What does it say?
Well it is not an article saying what type of skin disorders villains have. It is more about the fact that villains are often portrayed as having skin disorders.
The authors draw on examples such as The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde where every evil act the main character commits is followed by a gradual ageing and skin deformation of the character’s portrait.
From a more modern perspective, Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling goes from a handsome Tom Riddle to a bald, pale faced individual with a rather odd nose as he becomes more and more evil.
Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars series of movies undergoes a rapid transformation from a middle aged senator to a pale, wrinkly faced individual with severe blepharitis when he reveals himself to be a Sith Lord.
You can see conversely therefore that individuals with skin disorders may often then be perceived as having questionable morals or personalities and may be stigmatised as such.
Does that happen?
Yes, patients with skin disease do commonly report this. Patients with psoriasis report that they can be prevented from entering public swimming pools or boarding flights as they are thought to be contagious.
[Fighting back against psoriasis. A report by the PSO What? Taskforce. Downloaded Sept 2019 from https://www.leo-pharma.co.uk/Home/Supporting-you/Supporting-Patients/PSOWhat.aspx]
Patients with vitiligo endure endless comments about their pale patches. And the list goes on!
So what can be done about this?
Well this is the point of the article. There needs to be increased awareness of the impact of associating skin disorders with negative character stereotypes in movies and books.
Health organisations and support groups are also helping to increase this awareness, together with certain famous people with skin conditions. Winne Harlow is a model with vitiligo and is also a public spokesperson on the condition. She was on the U.S television series America’s Next Top Model in 2014. Another lady with vitiligo graces the public pages of the British Association of Dermatologist’s website.
The authors also talk about other literary villains who have no dermatological issues to counterbalance things, for example, the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and also Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. These are steps towards promoting a more unbiased perception of what villains can look like from a dermatological point of view.
In conclusion therefore…
We all have a subliminal tendency to associate any change from the normal with strangeness, oddity and moral deviation. We all need to do our bit to ensure that societal attitudes change because you never know, you may end up with skin disease at some point in life!
Dr Sandy Flann, Consultant Dermatologist.