Wendy Williams Apologizes for Calling Joaquin Phoenix's Lip Scar a 'Cleft Palate'

The TV host even shared a (very unfortunate) hand gesture to go along with it.

Wendy Williams, who's been facing backlash for days after poking fun at a certain 2020 Oscar nominee's lip scar, just apologized for her lapse in judgement on Twitter.

In a tweet shared Wednesday evening, Williams, 55, responded to Adam Bighill, who had been tweeting at Williams for days following an incident on The Wendy Williams Show when she poked fun at actor Joaquin Phoenix's lip scar, calling it a 'cleft palate.'

"I want to apologize to the cleft community and in Beau's honor, our show is donating to @operationsmile and @AmerCleftPalate and encourage our Wendy Watchers to learn more and help support the cleft community," Williams wrote.

It all started on January 7 during an airing of her show when Williams began talking about Phoenix, 45, during her "Hot Topics" segment. Williams initially started lusting over Phoenix's "piercing eyes"—but then things escalated.

"When he shaves off his mustache he's got a hairline fracture," Wendy said. "He's got one of those—what do you call it? Cleft lip, cleft palate." Her description also came with a gesture, in which she mocked Phoenix's lip scar by pulling up her own lip with her finger.

While Phoenix, 45, hasn't responded to Williams's mockery (he really hasn't spoken publicly about his lip at all, so it's not entirely clear if he has or had a cleft lip or palate), the cleft lip and palate community on social media has definitely taken note. Adam Bighill, a Canadian professional football player who was born with a cleft lip and palate—and whose son was also born with the condition—has been publicly calling out Williams for days, and says he will continue to tweet at her until he gets a response.

"Day 5 Waiting for @FoxTV and @BET to let @WendyWilliams [know] that her actions/comments towards the cleft community are not okay," Bighilll wrote in a tweet Tuesday. He also shared Wednesday that his son Beau was currently getting his "lip repaired" in Winnipeg, adding the hashtags "#cleftstrong #1in700 #cleftcutie."

Bighill isn't alone—various Twitter users have come out in opposition to William's actions, asking her and her employers to acknowledge the wrongdoing. "As Ambassador for for Cleft Lip and Palate Association...I really am disgusted by this @WendyWilliams," wrote Carol Vorderman. "Mimicing [sic] a cleft lip, and making a joke about it, is disgraceful. Have you any idea the pain and operations a child with cleft must go through as they grow?"

What exactly is a cleft lip and a cleft palate?

Cleft lip and cleft palate (together, called orofacial clefts) are birth defects that happen when a baby's lip or mouth don't form properly during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They're technically two separate things, but cleft lips and cleft palates form in the same way: While a baby develops during pregnancy, tissue and cells grow from each side of the head toward the center of the face, meeting in the middle. When that tissue joins together, facial features, like the lips and mouth, are formed. In children with cleft lips and cleft palates (aka, the roof of the mouth), however, that tissue doesn't join completely before birth, and leaves an opening.

Babies can be born with only a cleft lip, only a cleft palate, or both (the rates are 1 in 2,800 babies, 1 in 1,700 babies, and 1 in 1,600 babies, respectively). Children born with any type of orofacial cleft often also have issues with feeding and speaking clearly, along with ear infections, hearing problems, and dental issues, per the CDC.

While the specific causes of cleft lips and cleft palates are still relatively unknown, experts believe that some children are born with the orofacial clefts because of a change in their genes, or a combination of genes and environmental factors like what the mother eats or drinks, or which medications she takes during pregnancy, the CDC says.

As far as treatment and/or management for cleft lips and palates goes, they can vary depending on severity, the child's age, and the presence of associated symptoms, per the CDC. If the surgical route is taken, it's recommended during the first 12 to 18 months of life—and may require additional surgeries later in life. Other treatments may include special dental care or speech therapy. Without treatment, however, many children with orofacial clefts still lead a healthy life.

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