Heather Laine Talley: Saving Face

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The face is a real thing. It actually matters...It has this massive amount of functional importance in our lives. It’s also the site of enormous amounts of status...our face becomes a representative of who we are in some essential way.

Heather Laine Talley discusses her book Saving Face: Disfigurement and Politics of Appearance with Chris Richardson. Talley is a writer and sociologist. Her articles on topics as diverse as feminism, romance, food, inequalities, and philanthropy have appeared in books, academic journals, and across the digital world. In 2014, Saving Face was awarded Best Body and Embodiment Publication by the American Sociological Association. After five years on the tenure track, she opted out to collaborate with non-profit organizations and social enterprises invested in thinking outside of the box. She is currently the Co-Director of Social Justice Education and Community Engagement at the Tzedek Social Justice Fellowship, based in Asheville, NC.


A life-changing book for me. In it, Zerubavel reveals the social underpinnings of cognition. This book helped me think and live differently by helping me notice subtle practices of perception, categorization, and assigning meaning. This is a theoretical text, but its impact on my research practice, specifically my skills of observation has been immense. 

Lucy Grealy's memoir Autobiography of a Face is a beautifully crafted account of her experience living with facial difference. It resists the overcoming trope embedded in so many memoirs about disability. The book also raises questions about what was more disabling for Grealy--the physiological condition of her face or the social landscape that did not give her ways of seeing herself as anything other than disfigured. 

Elizabeth Spelman's book is a stunning reflection on our desire (or compulsion) to repair brokenness of all sorts from cars to marriages. While Spelman is not explicitly focused on medical interventions, her work illuminates what modern health care is really all about. 

adrienne maree brown's Emergent Strategy is a pivotal text--part theory, part self-help, part movement primer. It's a guide for conceptualizing and living into the world I dream of, one where all humans flourish. In my post-academic life, this book, with its emphasis on generative conversation over critique and collaboration over ego-centered leadership, has led to radical shifts in my thinking. 

Eli Clare's Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure is on my list of books to dive into next.