Resistance in relationship: Mothers’ armoring of their adolescent daughters living with facial differences

Pileggi, V. & Rice, C., Stead, S., & Atkinson, K. (2018). Resistance in relationship: Mothers’ armoring of their adolescent daughters living with facial differences. In S. Pashang, N. Khanlou, & J. Clarke (Eds.), Today’s youth and mental health: Advances in mental health and addiction (pp. 247-263). New York, NY: Springer.




The impact of facial differences on the lives of youth is a burgeoning topic in Anglo-Western developmental psychology, with much of the literature citing adolescents’ increased risk for psychological “disorders.” Largely informed by the deficit model of disability and physical difference, existing research has elided the ways in which the challenges of living with facial differences are resisted by youth and relationships that facilitate this process.

Main Body

Psychosocial scholarship on facial differences would benefit from paying greater attention to youths’ potential for positive psychological adjustment. This chapter explores relational processes occurring in a sample of multi-ethnic mothers and daughters that support adolescent development in daughters living with facial differences. Drawing on feminist, critical race and disability studies and intersectionality theory, we draw parallels between relational patterns of Black mothers raising Black daughters and multi-ethnic mothers (11 white, 1 Asian) raising daughters (8 white, 1 Asian, 1 Indigenous) living with facial differences, emphasizing the ways in which both employ similar strategies to teach their daughters to defend themselves against marginalization in a world that is often racist, sexist, and rejecting of bodily difference.


Rather than attributing psychosocial challenges encountered by youth to their difference, our research implicates societal responses as the source of this group of young women’s increased risk for psychosocial difficulties. Moreover, it underscores the ways in which potentially damaging exchanges can be mitigated by affirming mother-daughter relations, one potentially critical source of strength and resilience.


By using armoring to understand the unique ways that women mother minoritized daughters, the chapter provides new avenues for supporting families impacted by physical difference, which creates space for daughters to detach themselves them from stark predictions and negative prescriptions for who they may become.