1 4 mins 12 yrs

  “Judging by looks of things”

After the success of Channel 4’s Beauty & the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice Series one, the show has returned for a second series.

Exploring the issues of discrimination surrounding how we look; the concept of the documentary is quite simple (made with the co-operation of disfigurement charity Changing Faces); each episode pairs two people – one obsessed with intense personal vanity and one with a facial disfigurement. They spend time in each other’s lives and understand the differences and similarities between them. For some people it goes well, for others it doesn’t. And that’s what makes a documentary.

The first pairing is 21-year-old drama student and cosmetic beauty addict Gary Thomson and 47-year-old Texan Reggie Bibbs, an extreme sufferer of Neurofibromatosis, a condition that causes extensive body tissue to grow into tumors all over his body, mainly effecting his face and his left leg. Reggie’s whole family is affected with Neurofibromatosis in some form; sadly it is hereditary and can turn cancerous, which tragically was the fate of Reggie’s late older brother.

Gary at first was reluctant to learn anything from Reggie as these participants usually are, he didn’t think there was anything he could learn. Gary spent hundreds of pounds on clothes, shoes, makeup, grooming products and cosmetic enhancements, his goal was to have extensive facial surgery to attain the perfect image, much to the outrage of his flamboyant identical twin cousins Tammy and Terri, who added a quirky edge to the show without even trying.

In comparison to some of the other programmes in the first series this was a heartwarming start to the second series. Reggie is a genuinely nice man and his positivity for being himself was truly moving. He showed Gary the ugly side of cosmetic surgery and made him realize that changing his face wouldn’t make him a better person. He was never aggressive in his delivery of opinions, a deeply religious man who clearly has a big heart.

In an adorable twist Gary sold his clothes and shoes to raise funds for the organisation Reggie set up after being a recluse for 30 years; he always worried about his looks upsetting people or making them feeling uncomfortable so he never went out. ‘Just Ask’ helps the plight of people judged by the way they look and fighting prejudices, he decided to get out and make a difference after his brother’s death. The money raised helps him and others buy the special appliances and equipment needed to cope with his condition, as well as other health care costs in the USA. These things that we in the UK take for granted, we are very lucky to have the NHS.

An extremely touching programme in certain parts and Gary himself is a lovely young man, but I do believe that Gary is a better person for meeting Reggie. The two men are now great friends and Gary has not spent any of his birthday money on Botox, cheek implants or rhinoplasty. I think that is quite a positive result.

This series of 6 documentaries are attempting to dissolve the narrow ideas about what real beauty is, and certainly proves that beauty is only skin deep, but vanity and shallowness goes to the bone.

Next weeks’ episode will feature model Holly Kent and Harlequin Ichthyosis sufferer Nelly Shaheen.

Episode 2 will air on the 17th of July on Channel 4 at 8pm



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