Many disabled people have branded new Channel 4 reality TV series Beauty and the Beast a freak show after details about the factual documentary were released this week.
Beauty and the Beast, which is currently in the early stages of filming, will chronicle the reactions between a "very attractive" person and a person with a physical disfigurement after putting them in a house together.
However many disabled people and the mainstream media have responded negatively to the programme's premise, saying the beastly connotation will damage the dignity of people with physical disfigurements.
Rosemarie Buttery, who has a condition which affects her body shape, says: "I'm sure they have good intentions but the language they are using still feeds the belief that your outside reflects your inside.
"They are probably trying to be non-discriminatory but there still seems to be this idea in the media that if you show deformed people as having 'nice' personalities that they then deserve to be 'fixed'. I would imagine they're going with the same thing with this, aiming to show that not all beautiful people are wonderful and not all disabled people are bitter and twisted."
Disability Now also received a lot of feedback about the programme through Twitter, including the following tweet from user @MindInFlux: "It sounds like another sensationalist exploitative pile of drivel from Channel 4. Why would anyone take part in it?"
Meanwhile @Odbe34 said the Big Brother-style format may make it look "too much like a freak show". They suggested: "Rather than [putting them] in a house what about involving them in the community?"
National newspapers including the Telegraph, Independent and Daily Mirror labelled the series as trashy and a "disgraceful insult to disabled people".
Shari Royle was one of the people approached to be the "beast" in the show. But her view on its premise is much more positive: "When I first heard about the programme I thought it really could be taken the wrong way. But it is more about challenging assumptions about appearance and prejudices about disfigurement more than exposing people that have them.
"I don't like the thought of being referred to as a 'freak' in a freak show, but I think they're referring to a term, a stigma used in years gone by. This show challenges the perception that people with physical impairments are freaks and if it is portrayed the right way I think it could be a good thing."
A Channel 4 spokeswoman said that much of the content of Beauty and the Beast has been misreported. She said: "We want the programme to raise a debate, of course, but everyone assumes that the 'beast' part of the title refers to the person with a physical disfigurement but that simply isn't the case. It refers to the issues around obsession with beauty, botox and looking a certain way to fit into society.
"A lot of the issues that have cropped up this week will be contextualised nearer the air date and people will see that the programme isn't what they originally thought."
- Beauty and the Beast will be broadcast in early 2011
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