Please be advised that this post discusses self-harm and mentions abuse.
Writing this piece is going to be somewhat difficult at the moment because I’m very angry, for reasons which you may have already guessed from the title of this piece, so I can’t guarantee that everything I write will be coherent or even marginally articulate, but writing has always been a form of therapy for me, so I think this is something that I need to do. For my benefit, as well as yours.
Yesterday, I saw an image on social media that was very confronting and, to be frank, vile. I’m not going to name the person whose photo it was, the platform it was shown on or post the photo here a) because I don’t believe in shaming someone without tagging them in the content and b) I don’t want anyone else to be triggered by this photo. But that photo got me thinking about some very important things that we should be discussing more, which is the way self-harm is often romanticised in what we read and watch, and how that’s not okay.
To give you a vague idea, the image was of a novel and a painted blue arm with golden slits dripping golden “blood”, mirroring the book cover. Disgusted, I moved to the comments section and saw that only one person had stated how hurtful the image was. The blogger responded, defending their work by saying it was just “art”.
Self-harm is not “art”.
And that’s when I really started to get angry. I knew that they were only attempting to promote the book for something — which I was too disgusted to read more about — and they believed it was their artistic right to paint that on themselves, but I was horrified by what they’d done nonetheless. I understand it’s everyone’s right to do what they please and there’s a thing called “artistic freedom”, but I believe that triggering others should be taken into account when creating “art” that could be harmful to others. If possible, I’d just avoid it altogether. I hope no one else has to feel the way I did when seeing that.
Self-harm is not “beautiful”.
If I wanted to delve deeper into the finer details of the image, like how the golden paint of the slits alludes to beauty or romanticism, like self-harming is something one should aspire to, I’m sure I’d be able to go on about this forever. But that’s not what I want to do. This post isn’t about slamming the blogger who did this — it’s about trying to educate others that this isn’t right, and we should be protecting those that are vulnerable to being triggered, not making them feel invalidated by refusing to take the hurtful material down.
Self-harming does not make you “pure”.
And that leads me onto another offensive thing I saw recently — a film that was a hurtful and disgusting portrayal of what people with mental illnesses are like, and portrays self-harm as something that is “pure”. I never wanted to see this film after I’d heard how problematic it was in the first aspect I pointed out, but as I work at a cinema, it’s my job to see all the movies and advise customers — obviously telling them not to waste their money on such a vile film. But what I didn’t expect was to see the villain of the film “spare” a teen girl that had been abused and had obviously self-harmed because she was “pure”. Seeing her self-harm scars were triggering enough, but being told self-harming would save you? I’m still angry about that today. It’s absolutely disgusting.
Self-harming is not a “trend”.
What’s even more disappointing is finding books with side characters who self-harm being dismissed as just doing it as a “trend” or being “attention seekers”. The couple of times I’ve seen self-harm being dismissed this way has honestly made me sick to the stomach. We need to stop portraying characters struggling with self-harm in this way, because it makes readers who might be battling similar things feel as though they don’t matter, and what they’re going through doesn’t matter. Again, this perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness and makes it even harder for those battling to seek help. Not to mention, I don’t think I’m being over-demanding in saying that I don’t think books should ever discuss, in detail, what implements self-harming characters are using or how they are doing it. This level of detail can be very triggering, not to mention, people that are at risk of self-harming or relapsing might use this material in the way it wasn’t meant for.
Ultimately, self-harm is a very tricky topic to discuss as there are so many facets of it and many people have experienced it — or know people who have experienced — it in different ways. It’s impossible to write something about this topic that will cover a wide variety of aspects in depth because I’d be here for hours, and I also think it’s hard to discuss a topic like this without giving anecdotal input. Seeing self-harm romanticised or stated to be a “trend” disgusts me, and I hope the people who produce this content will soon realise that self-harm and mental illness are not things that should be dealt with lightly and that we should be looking out for our vulnerable friends who might be triggered by things like this. Please don’t make art that alludes to self-harm being beautiful and please don’t recommend triggering books without warnings or promote harmful content. Be careful, friends.
If you’re looking for a book to read that talks about self-harm in an honest and raw way, I highly recommend picking up Girl in Pieces. While this novel may be triggering for some, I believe it’s a truthful and real portrayal into the life of a teen girl struggling with mental illness and shows that no matter how dark things seem, there is always someone who loves you.
I love you ❤️