Facial blemishes and deformity have become Hollywood shorthand for evil. Scars are no exception to this rule; think of the many gruesome scars on Darth Vader’s maskless face, or on Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. You might also remember The Joker in The Dark Knight: “You know where I got these scars?”. There’s even a Disney villain named Scar with a scar, a surefire sign that Disney wanted you to know he was really, really evil. Such an on-the-nose reference to facial scarring as a sign of impropriety, malicious intent or sadism seems extreme when you step back and look at it from a distance, and dermatologists are worried. A study looking at dermatologic conditions and villains concluded that such conditions are indeed often used as shorthand, and worried that it might encourage social harm to people who experience said conditions.
Why is scarring used as a shorthand for evil? Sussing this out sends us into the realm of speculation, but it’s an important question to consider. It may be because scarring is often associated with health conditions, some of which might be contagious; our natural fear of infection might lead us to fear those with dermatological conditions, especially if scarring is located all over the face. We might instead wonder at the psychological state of the scarred person; think back to the Joker again. We even use the same words for physical scarring as we do psychological scarring; perhaps the way we use our language has a significant impact on how we perceive those with scars. Are they a dangerous person, who got the scars by starting too many fights? Are they a danger to themselves, who got the scars through self-harm? These thoughts may come unbidden to our minds when we see scars, so Hollywood uses them to make us uncomfortable as quickly as possible.
Yet another possibility is that Hollywood itself, falling back on its own shorthand, is perpetuating negative stereotypes about people with scars. Once a convention has been established, it’s easy to fall back on the same tropes without considering the social impact it had. Imagine a universe in which scars were used as a shorthand for goodness; people who weren’t afraid to fight for what they believe in, to meet with the sick and contagious, to work hard in dangerous situations. Maybe that universe has blemishless folks cast in the role of villain; Snow White as a character too privileged and naive to care about common people.
Whatever the cause of Hollywood’ villain-scar fascination, it’s important to remember that scars do not, in fact, tell you very much at all about a person’s life or personality; they probably got it through an accident, or a childhood disease, or some other event trivial to your understanding of that individual. Approach every new person with an open mind, and don’t judge books by their cover. If you have a scar, it can be good to try and accept it, but in some lines of work it’s the non-acceptance of others that creates financial problems. Fortunately, there are safe and effective methods of reducing facial scars, commonly known as facial scar removal.