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Fighting for Face Equality After 50 Surgeries

Hadjipateras with family
Christian J. Hadjipateras with his family in 1992. Credit: Christian J. Hadjipateras

London-born Greek Christian J. Hadijpateras has had 50 surgeries to correct the craniofacial anomalies that marked the beginning of his life.

Now, back in Greece, he is helping to promote the campaign for Face Equality, a global campaign to advocate for individuals who look different from what is usually considered the norm.

The week of May 17 to 24 every year is dedicated to creating a world where everyone is treated fairly, no matter how they look.

Challenging start of life for Hadjipateras

Hadjipateras was born in London in 1984 with craniosynostosis, in which the bones of the skull fuse prematurely. Tests in vitro do not detect this craniofacial anomaly. He also had a bilateral cleft lip and palate, hypertelorism (when the eyes are abnormally far apart), abnormal kidneys and hearing loss. His hairline and eyebrows were also set unusually high on his face.

With an extremely challenging start in life, Hadjipateras has become a champion for Face Equality. He has been active with support groups for craniofacial anomalies in the US and the UK.

“While I was growing up, children would stare” regardless of whether he was in the UK, Greece or the US, said Hadjipateras. “Today my appearance is drastically better because of the multiple reconstructive surgeries I had.

“That said, I would say from experience that in the UK and US, people were generally more discreet, whereas here in Greece, the looks are more obvious; not in a nasty way, but in a more overtly inquisitive way,” he added.

“When I was born, there were virtually no organizations which offered emotional support for children with facial differences – or parents. My parents therefore had no one they could relate to,” he said. “Thankfully today there are so many around and they offer a huge support network as well as raising awareness,” Hadjipateras added.

The international organization behind the campaign Face Equality International, is an alliance of Non-Governmental Organizations–NGOs, charities and support groups which are working at national, regional or international levels to promote the campaign for Face Equality.

Hadjipateras has worked closely with Face the Future, based in Chicago as well as the Children’s Craniofacial Children’s Craniofacial Association, headquartered in Dallas. Although he lived in the UK, many of his surgeries took place in the US.

These organizations’ intent is to empower and give hope to individuals and families affected by facial differences. They strive to create a world where everyone is treated fairly without regard to their appearance.

What is Face Equality?

Those born with facial differences should obviously be treated fairly, no matter what they look like. Many children are born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other more complex, life-threatening craniofacial conditions. Face Equality aims for fair treatment, no matter the appearance of an individual.

“I want to emphasize the importance of inclusion and  equal chances in every aspect of life, be it in the workplace, educational institutions or in social situations,” Hadjipateras stated.

“Why should someone with facial differences not set their sights high? Why should they settle for less? Why should they compromise their self- worth?” he asked.

“By changing people’s attitudes and by gradually eroding away prejudice and ignorance, we can create a society that sees beyond a face that looks different and looks straight into the essence of a fellow human being,” Hadjipateras said.

The campaign for Face Equality was launched in May 2008 by the UK charity “Changing Faces.” The goal is to create a world in which people who have disfigurements to their face from any cause are accepted and valued as equal citizens, free of prejudice, low expectations and stigma.

Hadjipateras tells his own story to raise awareness and understanding of the medical and  emotional issues of craniofacial conditions.

Craniofacial Anomaly Treatment in Greece

“Once I moved to Greece, I was determined to raise awareness here for children and adults with facial differences because I felt that there was – and sadly still is – a lack of awareness,” he said. “I paid a visit to the Hellenic Craniofacial Center in Athens, founded by the late Dr. Alexandros Stratoudakis, who I had the pleasure of meeting some years ago,” Hadjipateras added.

“The dedicated team there are an inspiration. I also met with an Athens-based surgeon, who has done incredible work with children born with various anomalies,” according to Hadjipateras. “Most recently I met with a professor based in Thessaloniki who has kindly invited me to meet with patients of his and I’m very much looking forward to that,” he stated.

Christian J. Hadjipateras advocates for Face Equality
Following 30 surgical procedures, Christian J. Hadjipateras is an advocate for Face Equality. Credit: Christian J. Hadjipateras

The campaign for Face Equality in 2021 focuses on education “to instill the reality that everyone is equal regardless of their background, their appearance etc.,” said Hadjipateras. Face Equality International are certainly playing their part in getting this message across, he added.

At school, teachers and other education professionals play a vital role in the process diminishing behavior that is hurtful and facilitating empowerment and self confidence. “When I began prep school at five, my classmates were gently told about me — my story — beforehand by the teachers,” Hadjipateras said.  “I was very fortunate to spend eight years at a wonderfully unique school and it played an integral part of my childhood years,” he added.

Psychological Impact of Growing Up with Facial Differences

“One of the biggest regrets I have was not opening up during my toughest years as a teenager,” Hadjipateras said. “Although I was lucky to have a loving family, extended family and a close circle of childhood friends, I didn’t open up enough,” he added. The psychological impact of growing up with facial differences can be extremely challenging and that’s why the subject of mental health is so important to me, he said.

As a 30-something adult, Hadjipateras has been based in Greece for the past five years. “I was born and raised in London and initially moved to Athens in 2011. However, working in the film industry had been a long-term aim of mine and I was offered the opportunity of a job at a TV distribution company in Los Angeles,” he said.

“I moved there in 2013 and worked on the writing team of an ongoing travel series called ‘The Kindness Diaries,’ which is now shown on both Netflix and Amazon Prime,” Hadjipateras said.  “I also gained further experiences in the industry at the New York Film Academy in Burbank. Although I enjoyed my time in Los Angeles, I felt the time was right to move back to Athens in 2015,” he added.

“Equality Means Being Treated Equally”

The film “Wonder,” released a few years back, is the story of a boy with craniofacial anomalies. Hadjipateras said that he has seen the film.

“I did hesitate for a long time in seeing it as I feared it would be veryHollywoodized.’ I echo the words of the founder of Face Equality International, James Partridge, when it comes to the film. While he praised it for helping to raise awareness about facial differences, he touched on an interesting point – and one I wholeheartedly agree with,” Hadjipateras said.

“At the end of the film, the main character is given an award for ‘bravery’. This is where I have an issue with how people with facial differences are viewed – and I can only speak for myself of course,” Hadjipateras stated.

“In this ever-growing culture of victimhood and self-indulgence we see more of today, we are actually losing sight of what equality actually means. Being condescending or patronizing to someone because they look ‘different’, have a disability – or whatever it may be – is not the way forward,” he explained.

“Equality means being treated equally. I never wanted to be treated in a special way and in fact my mother instilled in me from a young age that I was essentially just the same as every other child,” he added.

Today Hadjipateras works as a writer and promotional speaker across the globe, serving as one of the eloquent faces for Face Equality.

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