Romanticising Self-Harm

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 ❤️

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28 thoughts on “Romanticising Self-Harm

  1. Fantastic post ❤ Couldn't believe when I saw that pic on Insta (and I've followed for ages as well…not anymore). Romanticisation of mental illness is something I've blogged about for years, and it's so widespread in pop culture. Like I saw this thing on Tumblr about how suicidal people are just "angels who want to go home" and I'm like…what the fuck??? It really needs to stop, and saying it's "art" just doesn't help.

    • Thank you, lovely 💕 I know, it was definitely a shock seeing that. And I’ve seen that post on Tumblr too – it’s disgusting and minimises the pain and torment that some people with mental illnesses live through every single day. I’ve also seen posts on Tumblr about how “a blade was her pen and the skin was her canvas” or something, which is equally sickening. Self-harm is not beautiful, and it’s not art.

  2. This is something that needs to be talked about more. There was a time where I felt depressed and I would go to Instagram for quotes and ended up gravitating towards many that romanticized self-harm. I never actually harmed myself, but the emotional damage these sort of images did hurt me more then I wanted to believe. It took me a long long time to start looking for more positive self-love imagery and quotes to help heal, but eventually I turned it around. Self-Harm is not beautiful, it is a broken expression of hurt and suffering that needs special care, help, and hope to deal with. It is not ok. It is heartbreaking.

    • I completely agree. I’ve had my own experiences similar to that, and there’s nothing worse than starting to see self-harm in that way because of the images and quotes out there. It’s disgusting, and it makes me pity the people who are so consumed by their pain that they start to think in that way. We definitely need to be talking about this more and helping those that may be at risk or vulnerable to believing those messages. You’re right – it’s truely heartbreaking.

  3. Thank you for such an eloquent and necessary post. I was so shaken when I saw that picture the other day, and I’m glad you addressed it. There’s nothing that saddens me more than the blatant misunderstanding of and lack of concern about how pictures like that will affect people. I would say that I hope she’s learned from this, but I know she hasn’t.

    • Thank you so much for reading it! I was too. It made me angry that they would think doing something like that was acceptable, and even more angry by their disregard for those who spoke out and said they were triggered by that image and their refusal to see what they did was wrong. I even saw one person defending them by saying something like “people who get triggered shouldn’t be online”. I mean, WOW. You’re right. They haven’t learnt anything from this, but I just hope they’ll have the decency not to make “art” like this again.

      • What I don’t understand is why people would continue to follow her, even if they weren’t individually triggered. Surely you wouldn’t want to follow someone who clearly doesn’t give a crap about the wellbeing and thoughts of their followers?!
        And yeah. I’m very much the sort of person who tries to gently educate people about mental health and everything associated, but some of those comments made me angry – a difficult thing to do. Thank you again for writing this.

      • I completely agree! It’s very disappointing to see so many people defending her. And thank you for helping educate people. There are a lot of ignorant people out there, and hopefully you’re making a big difference, one person at a time. We need more people like you! Thank you 💕

  4. I completely agree with everything! Mental illnesses and self harm are not something that should be romanticised. They should be talked about and make people aware of them, but there are ways of going about it. It shouldn’t be making people want to self harm, or suffer from a mental illness of some sort. I have no problem with people showing scars, if anything I’m proud of them for being able to do so and the fact they may have gotten over it. I didn’t see the post, thankfully, but I know there are so many posts out there and I know there’s competition out there on some accounts I’ve stumbled across, like self harm is something that’s a competition, to almost see who is worse. I could go on and on about this topic so I’ll stop here. Thank your this very important post.

  5. This is really fantastic! ❤ I don't do self-harm, so I don't know how it feels, but I SEE how the picture can be trigerring for people who do it. And the worst thing is, there are people who defend the picture, saying "art has always been subjective, topic of debate, etc etc". I get those point of view, but what they don't get is how that "art" is harming other people! I'm also sick with the romanticising trend, when we say we want books about self harm and mental illness, we mean that we want books that truly TALK about those things in honest and raw way, but instead we get romantication and other harmful things. Thank you for this post, I love it! ❤

    • Thank you so much! I completely agree. “Art” that is harmful is completely unacceptable. I understand and admire art that is thought-provoking or challenging, but this was absolutely vile. I also detest novels that simply romanticise mental illness, so coming across a book that talks about one’s battles honestly and openly – but most importantly, realistically – is really great. Thanks again for reading my post 💕

  6. Fantastic post! 🙂 Yesterday I woke up to this mess and I was… shocked. I’m not triggered by the image and if people didn’t tell me, I probably wouldn’t notice it that way. It’s probably like that for some people as well. BUT, refusing to take down the picture AFTER so many people saying that it’s hurtful and triggering is a total ignorance. I was especially angry seeing her response and how other people defended her, saying that it’s just art and people who are easily triggered shouldn’t even be here altogether. I was like… “was it so hard to have a little bit of empathy?” </3

    ANYWAY, you're so right that if we're gonna talk about romanticizing mental illness in general it'll probably take hours because the issues run deep. I've read a lot of books where mental illness is used as a plot point or even a twist, I've seen a lot of books in which the mental illness was cured by love interests, etc. It's so problematic and if you maaaaybe want to write a post about it someday in the future, I'll be so glad and grateful to read it 😛 once again amazing post and thank you for writing this ❤

    • Thanks so much! And I know. That infuriated me so much, especially when so many people I know politely informed her that it was hurtful, and yet she ignored their requests to remove it to ensure other people weren’t triggered. Yes I saw that comment, and to be honest, it was just as hurtful as the photograph to me. Different people are triggered by different things, and we come to that social media platform to look at pictures of books and follow bloggers, not to be harmed by the content they choose to release. I’m very disappointed with how she handled the situation.

  7. I’ve never understood the ‘its just a trend’ attitude towards self-harm. It’s just so dismissive and damaging to accuse someone who’s clearly struggling of trying to get attention. Romanticised images do nothing to help that. It’s just as hurtful as glorifying eating disorders and other mental health issues. And the mentality that if it doesn’t bother you then why should it bother anyone else is ignorant. This is a great post! I’ve never read Girl In Pieces, but I’d love to read a book that takes a more responsible approach towards mental health.

    • I couldn’t agree more. That attitude is so harmful, and so is the belief that people who self-harm just do it for attention. And yes, those images are absolutely vile, especially the ones that glorify eating disorders. But you should definitely read GIRL IN PIECES! It’s such a raw and honest novel about the battle against mental illness and what it’s truly like to self-harm. Thanks for reading my post! 💜

  8. I really enjoyed your discussion of this. I do disagree with the film you mentioned as it’s implied that the scars were inflicted by her rapist/abuser and not by herself. At least that’s how I and many people I’ve discussed the film with seen it as. I also think that self-harm shouldn’t be art, but it can be used as artistic expression. I have many friends who struggle with self-harm, but instead of inflicting pain on themselves they have taken to painting their bodies to represent their feelings. My biggest problem with mental illness being romanticized is that I feel like it’s encouraging impressionable young people to self-harm in attempts to be loved more because they are “broken”. These tumblr poems and images that glorify self-harm disgust, especially since I have been a self-harmer and don’t see anything beautiful about the damage I inflicted upon myself. Am I am proud to have self-harmed? No, but I do see it as a time in my life where I learned from the anger, hurt, and hatred I felt inside. I’m not ashamed of the choices I made, but I don’t want to see others make this same choice. Preventing self-harm from becoming the norm is important because I know too many girls who are self-harmers and I feel like our society is starting to perpetuate and glorify it.

    • Ah, I interpreted that differently then. Though I do think that if people viewed it in the way I did it could be quite harmful, and it’s never explicitly stated where she got those marks from, so there’s not really a right or wrong answer.

      I also understand that some people who suffer from self-harm draw on their skin instead of inflicting that pain upon themselves, but to me that’s not “art” – it’s a kind of therapy.

      I completely agree with your mention of the Tumblr posts, and unfortunately, the way everyone has access to these images and posts isn’t helping.

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. this instagram post made me so angry, I was telling everyone about how wrong it was and how ignorant the person was, especially because they never took accountability and apologised for what they had done (I’m not sure if they took it down as I’ve blocked the page)
    I ended up telling friends who aren’t ‘readers’ about this and they felt the exact same way I did about this.
    thank you so much for writing this post and sharing it so that more people can know how hurtful romanticising not just self-harm but also mental health is.
    – Yasmin

      • I can understand that they didn’t do it with the intention of harming anyone, but the fact that they left it up and argued about it and refused to acknowledge the fact that the post was hurtful and then left the post up was the worst part.
        You’re welcome
        – Yasmin

  10. THIS THIS THIS. i still cant believe that people make it out to be art when so many of us past harmers are out here being so triggered from their posts *heavy sigh*

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