Fuel Your Imagination

Embracing the beauty in every smile

Smile Train UK and The PHA Group created a public exhibition to tackle the stigma around cleft and help those with facial differences love their smile

Jeevan Georgina Hammond

Editorial Assistant Creativebrief


A photography exhibition by Smile Train UK and The PHA Group embraced diversity, celebrated cleft-affected Brits, and showcased the narrative of beauty in every smile.

One out of 700 people are born with a cleft annually in the UK. A cleft occurs when a baby’s lip and/or mouth do not fuse together during pregnancy, resulting in a facial difference.

Fanny Beckman, a London-based photographer who often uses her art to raise awareness of social inequalities, was behind the series. She took portraits of twelve people with clefts as part of Smile Train UK’s directive to help those affected with the facial difference embrace and love their smiles.

I learned to appreciate my smile as a symbol of resilience and strength. It became a source of pride rather than insecurity.

Nischala Chitradurga, a subject of Beauty in Every Smile

The portraits come as part of Smile Train UK’s new national campaign, called Beauty in Every Smile. Aptly timed, the work was displayed along London’s South Bank in early October, to coincide with World Smile Day on the 6th. It was a public exhibition, ensuring maximum exposure for the cause.

Nischala Chitradurga (23, London) was born with a cleft and features in the exhibition. The campaign strives to help people like Chitradurga, who have experienced difficulties with their appearance as a result of a cleft. Chitradurga “experienced bullying” when she was younger, and says that “children would call me names and make fun of my appearance because of my cleft”. Such “hurtful comments” even came from “random strangers”, she continues.

The campaign aimed to tackle such discrimination by taking pride in uniqueness, in the same way that Nischala has come to do. She shared, “over time, and with the support of my loved ones, I began to realise that my smile was a unique part of who I am. I learned to appreciate my smile as a symbol of resilience and strength. It became a source of pride rather than insecurity”.

Stacey & Dylan (2). Visit Smile Train UK to help champion smile inclusivity (www.smiletrain.org.uk).jpg
Nishchala Chitradurga. Visit Smile Train UK to help champion smile inclusivity (www.smiletrain.org.uk).jpg

Research behind the campaign was conducted by Smile Train UK in partnership with Censuswide. It found that 34% of people living in the UK who have a facial difference, like cleft, have faced discrimination or received negative comments. In addition, 30% have experienced bullying. As a result, 29% of people affected have felt self-conscious, 28% unhappy, 28% embarrassed, 26% unwanted, and 27% depressed.

Photographer Fanny Beckman spoke about how “Art is a powerful tool to use to start conversations”. By presenting the exhibition in such a public space and for free, the campaign seized the chance to get a great deal of people talking. As a result, Fanny comments that the work could contribute to “removing the stigma around being born with a cleft”.

Video production agency, Red Kite Films, created the accompanying film which features stories from four of the individuals in the exhibition.

Finding the beauty in every smile also extends to people without facial differences who have also expressed smile insecurities. Smile Train UK found that 53% of the general public do not fully love their smile. Of those surveyed, 24% said that they would love their smile more if they were told it was beautiful.

Ian Vallance, Director at Smile Train UK, hopes that the campaign “will inspire more smile inclusivity and self-acceptance, creating lots of new smiles in the process”. Embracing the beauty in every smile by bringing to life the happiness that comes with self-acceptance, Smile Train is able to break down stigmas around facial differences while spreading joy.