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Disability : a new history. Beauty and deformity. 4/10.

  • White, Peter, 1947 June 18-
  • Audio

About this work


Radio documentary presented by Peter White entitled 'Beauty and deformity'. This episode looks at 18th century ideas of beauty and physical disability and its impact on those with disabilities. An excerpt is read from the writing of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who had bad smallpox scarring. Later in the programme it is noted that due to her aristocratic status she was able to overcome her disfigurement socially. Professor Judith Hawley mentions how physical deformity and ugliness were seen as a moral deformity. Naomi Baker, of Manchester University, suggests that the rise of scientific interest in the 18th century promoted an increase in ideas of order and regularity, including a beautiful and healthy body. Anything that deviated from this could be open to ridicule and sometimes stronger views. Julie Anderson, from the University of Kent, talks of the fear of 'maternal impression', a widely held view based on the medical knowledge of the time, that if a pregnant woman saw a person with a disability, the foetus would be imprinted with this and then born with it. This was also used by some to explain their own disability, notably the 'elephant man', Joseph Merrick. Judith Hawley, continues that women were often seen as physiologically abnormal precisely because they were female rather than male. There was a great deal of money to be made in clothing and instruments that could lead to an improvement in body shape. Class, wealth and status could usually mitigate any loss of beauty.


UK : BBC Radio 4, 2013.

Physical description

1 CD (14 min.)


Broadcast on 30 May, 2013.

Creator/production credits

A Loftus Production for BBC Radio 4 ; presented by Peter White ; produced by Elizabeth Burke.

Copyright note

BBC Radio 4.



  • English

Where to find it

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