Channel 4’s Katie: My Beautiful Friends takes a deeper look at disfigurements

With warnings about scenes of distressing surgery, Channel 4′s Katie: My Beautiful Friends launched on Tuesday night.

Following last year’s successful documentary about Katie Piper and her horrific injuries following an acid attack, this new series journals Katie’s encounters with other sufferers of scars and disfigurements. It also charts Katie’s attempts to start a charity to help fellow sufferers.

I have to confess upfront that part of me was terrified of even watching this show. I’m notoriously squeamish when it comes to injuries and especially televised surgery.

What quickly becomes apparent to viewers like me is that however difficult it may be to watch this show, it’s infinitely more difficult to live with the effects of scarring and disfigurement.

During the course of this first episode, we met Adele and Chantelle. Both ladies had come to Katie’s attention through letters that had been written to her following the first series. Adele survived a horrific accident in the house when she had an epileptic seizure in the shower and collapsed, accidentally knocking the heat up to its highest setting. The resulting burns to her arms and back have left extensive scarring. Chantelle has a life-threatening condition called AVM which leaves the blood vessels in her nose and face out of control, causing her nose to become enlarged and discoloured.

The series deftly examines the reality of living with severe and obvious scarring. Katie and Adele talk about choosing to cover up their scarring versus rebelling by wearing clothes that show their scars. Both their mothers agonize over the stares of strangers and how protective they become of their daughters. From the other side of the fence, I feel that people’s eyes are naturally drawn to people who are different, whether they have bright blue spiky hair or a facial disfigurement. And when people make an effort to avert their eyes, that can often make the victim feel even more uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to that problem.

Adele’s story just shows how a freak household accident can lead to horrific scarring. Her experience highlights the different ways that scarring can affect people – on one hand, she’s avoided other burns victims. On the other hand, Adele talks with Katie about her worries – will she ever be able to settle down and get married with 46% burns on her body? She admits to never even having kissed a boy since she had her accident at the age of fifteen.

Chantelle’s story is perhaps much more moving. Six months after her wedding, her AVM flared up causing her nose to swell and discolour. Her top lip and cheek are also affected. Not only is this condition life threatening, but it’s caused a rift with her husband. The couple claim that the main reason for their breakup is that he wants to settle down and have children while Chantelle feels she can’t move on with her life until the AVM is finally cured.

As well as that, Chantelle tells how she was punched in the face by a girl during a night out at the pub. The social repercussions of her disfigurement become even clearer when she attempts to spend the day at a local shopping centre. Again we see people sneaking glances at her nose, and it’s not long before she becomes upset and has to leave.

As Chantelle’s marriage breaks down, she finally gets her life-saving operation. These scenes are genuinely distressing, especially when the operation isn’t quite successful and the doctors try to save the skin graft to her nose by applying leeches. We’ll find out how Chantelle’s story ends in later episodes.

Katie: My Beautiful Friends was a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking account of people living with serious disfigurements. It very cleverly continues Katie Piper’s story, showing her attempts to set up a charity and also dealing with the shocking news that the man who organised the acid attack on her was planning to appeal his sentencing. At the same time, it builds upon the earlier series by showing other sufferers and their experiences. The series will continues to introduce other sufferers and tell their stories, and anybody who was gripped by Chantelle’s experiences will be tuning in to find out if her surgery was successful.

Watch the first episode here<http://www.channel4.com/programmes/katie-my-beautiful-friends> on C4 on demand and tune into the next episodes every Tuesday at 9pm on C4.

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