A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking to Adam Pearson, a 28-year-old TV and film buff who works as a developer and presenter for the British network 4oD. I heard about Adam one night after watching an episode of Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice, which he starred in. Each episode of the show featured two people, one a woman obsessed with her physical appearance and the other a person living with a facial disfigurement, who spend some time in each other’s shoes. Adam has Neurofibromatosis, which causes benign tumors to form on his face. He’s had over 40 surgeries to relieve the pressure of the fibromas.
Watching the clips from the show, I was struck by the way Adam handled the stares and questions about his face. Of course, stares and questions about a physical difference are things that many in the limb difference community are used to, so I thought I’d reach out to Adam for advice and for his take on the situation.
After work one day, I started Skype on my laptop and dialed Adam’s video-call number. Adam was a total sweetheart right from the beginning. He told me about his latest projects, which I promised to keep secret (though I will assure you that they sound awesome!) and about his current hobbies – video gaming and late-night TV marathons. (He’s the one who got me hooked on The Big Bang Theory.) Adam’s confident, self-assured, and happy – everything I’m working at becoming. He’s also very open and honest, as I learned from his sincere answers to my questions.
The first thing I asked Adam about was his career in television, since we had that in common. He said he was destined to work in TV from a young age, when he first developed a fascination with all things media. He realized early on that the media is a powerful vehicle through which he could educate and inform others about facial disfigurement. The mainstream depictions of people with physical differences (from the Phantom of the Opera to Captain Hook) don’t accurately portray the truth. Media consumers are probably very familiar with a limited number of tropes, usually involving an evil personality or embitterment about being different. Adam’s mission, he says, is to dispel the myths people hold about those with differences.
In a campaign he started while working on the show Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice, Adam directed a fashion show featuring models with various differences – from plus sizes to missing limbs. And in an even bolder move, he posed half-nude (ala David Beckham in his famous Armani ad) in a London billboard for the Changing Faces foundation, which helps those with facial disfigurements cope with their daily challenges. Recently, Adam went skydiving to raise money for the charity. Yep, the guy pretty much does it all.
When I asked Adam what his ultimate goal was with his work, he reiterated that he hopes physical differences get more accurate onscreen attention so that audiences understand that people with differences aren’t necessarily all that different. Those with a facial disfigurement like Adam’s or a limb difference like mine have hopes and dreams similar to those of the general public. We are not sideshow acts or curiosities; we are human beings, beautiful in our own right. And I can’t help but think of Adam as incredibly inspiring as he moves forward with this mission.
I know “inspiration” is a loaded word, one that I often take issue with. A lot of people use it to describe someone with a difference when that person succeeds or accomplishes something that you would only expect of someone without a difference. For example, I hate being called an “inspiration” when I wear sleeveless shirts or when I perform a task as mundane as sharpening a pencil. Adam has no problem being called an inspiration, he says, because he recognizes it as a compliment. So I hope he doesn’t mind that I find him inspiring (which I do believe is different than “inspirational”) and feel empowered to be myself and feel beautiful after speaking to him.
Today, Adam and I still keep in touch via Skype and Facebook. We’ve become friends, which is pretty inevitable when you meet someone so easy to talk to and so easy to love. He continues his campaign to put physical differences onscreen, and he’s making his mark on British television. He’s living his life to the fullest and never letting anything get him down.
So I’ll leave you with this, the advice Adam said he hopes anyone with a difference (or without one, of course) takes to heart:
“You need to live the life you have as opposed to grieving the one you don’t.”