“People who make throw away comments about cutting oneself ‘like an emo’ make me want to yell at them.”

**trigger warning for self harm, depression***

“Don’t cry and cut yourself.”

“Cut yourself like some emo/goth.”

“I hated it so much it made me want to slit my wrists.”

Half remembered, throw away comments that I hear on the regular.

I hear a variation on them I would say probably once a week, sometimes from friends, or colleagues, often strangers.
I work in a bar, it’s very easy to overhear conversations.

I have many scars, of various shapes and sizes on the top half of my right arm.
I cut myself there because I was still in secondary school when I did it, and if I did it there they were easy to hide with my school polo shirts.
I’m left handed, and it just seemed natural to hold the blade with my left hand.
I also cut my wrists a little, but it proved hard to hide them with bracelets.
I cut the inside of my thighs a couple of times too, but that was difficult to hide in the communal changing rooms.
An arm was much easier to make sure I had turned to the wall.

What I didn’t know at the time but have since been told by my doctor is that I over-produce scar tissue.
Even if I were to go for laser removal surgery, I would still have scars.

It is harder to write about this than I thought it would be.
It has been around 8 years since I self harmed, but it’s still difficult to remind myself of how I felt when I did.

People who make throw away comments about cutting oneself “like an emo.” make me want to yell at them.

People who ask me about the scars on my arm, which I do not make a lot of effort to hide because I shouldn’t have to, generally also piss me off.

I do not mind people that I know well, asking me respectfully, in private, about the scars.

I don’t really understand the need, because it’s obvious what they’re from. You can fairly safely assume that the answer to your questions will be: “I have depression, I used to self harm.”
But fine, if you feel some need to have me explain, whatever, I can do that.

But I would like to caution you against asking people.
If they want to talk about it, they will.

If not, please feel free to draw the intelligent conclusion that it’s none of your damned business; silently salute them for being able to brave the stares that not hiding your scars foster.

The whispered comments behind hands, and the brazen (usually drunk) assholes who ask you about the darkest period of your life and the constant reminder that you are stuck with on your body in the form of scars which represent a pain so all-consuming that you did not know how to process it.

These assholes will ask me casually.
As if they are entitled to ask me.
It often happens when I am on a night out, being brave, not hiding them, not hiding something that is inexorably a part of me, trying to have a good time.

Smooth.
Thanks stud.

Fortunately these outrageous dickheads are fairly few and far between, and fortunately for them, I have a good handle on my temper, and usually I’m able to make them leave me the fuck alone with a few words and a look.

I am strong, I am confident, a lot of people are not.

I’m stuck with these scars, there’s nothing I can do about that.

What I can do though is ask this of you; I would ask you to take a second to think the next time your curiosity tries to get the better of you, to think about what the scars on someone else’s body mean to them, and whether you have any right to ask about them.

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“My relationship with my body is love/hate – mostly hate.”

TW for bulimia.

My relationship with my body is love/hate – mostly hate. I have a 1 year old little girl and she has COMPLETELY changed my body! Before I got pregnant I was pretty curvy but felt fine about myself. I did always want to look like they did in magazines but not enough to actually do something about it!

I was about 30-something weeks pregnant when I started getting stretch marks and I felt horrible. I felt fat, bloated and ugly! Then I gave birth by cesarean and have been left with a scar that makes my belly look weird and saggy. I was sick of feeling fat and ugly so I did something about the weight. I lost 2 and a half stone within 6-8 months. I felt great physically but mentally still ugly.

I follow hundreds of clean eating and body building pages on Instagram and I want to be like them but I am so mentally drained with being a single mum that I have no motivation. I weigh myself everyday and if I put on a few pound I sometimes make myself sick. It’s so stupid. Sometimes I look in the mirror and feel great and think, “well, I look pretty hot for a mum!”, but that’s soon wiped away and I look closely at my stretch marks and lifeless boobs and feel like a deflated balloon.

“This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly.”

Comparing yourself to others is not a right thing to do when it comes to achieving a sense of freedom within the framework of your body. That is what I would do quite often, and it still happens to me sometimes. Like it or not, there will always be someone who is in a better shape and condition, of smoother skin, bigger eyes and sexier moves. Similarly, there will always be someone who is less attractive or of less capabilities than you.

There were a certain stages in my life when I would rediscover my body. One of them was, of course, my first sexual relationship. How important it was to hear that I was sexy, smelled nice and had amazing boobs. 14 years and a few relationships later I already know that the beauty is not as obvious as pleasing facial features and flat belly.
One of the breakthroughs in befriending my body was when I met a theatre group from Norway. After their performance, we had a walk around the old town and one of the actresses started to pet her arms and legs saying: “thank you for being strong and enabling me to perform today”. Then she explained: “I try to do that every day, cause I am grateful for my body being fit and the fact that I can do so many things thanks to it”.
“That is so true!” – I thought. We rarely notice when our body works perfectly fine (unless we use our bodies as a tool for work – as in dance or sport). We tend to realise how important it is when our condition worsens.

Now I see how lucky I am to live in my body. I call it my home and I try to take care of it as If it was my shelter. I want it to be healthy, strong and also, good looking. However, I am not obsessed with how I look and I don’t compare myself to others anymore (as often as before). There are some things I can change about my body to make it more flexible, fresh and healthy, so I do that. But there are many things I can’t change, so it is better to accept it.

It wasn’t always the case, though. Until my mid-twenties, I was very unhappy about my look and overall condition. I looked much better than I do now, though. First of all – I was younger, my skin was softer, boobs firmer and I was more energetic in general. But the only thing I could think of was my scars and how to get rid of them. When I think about it now and how it kept me away from sunny beaches, wearing dresses and being spontaneous, I feel pity for this pretty teenage girl hiding under tonnes of layers, ashamed of her body. I wanted to protect others from looking at my ugly parts and this way, to protect myself from being judged and rejected. It took me ages to realise that what others think is their business, not mine. I shouldn’t be sorry for something I can’t control and, more importantly, doesn’t cause any harm to anyone. This is how I look. Others may not like it, but I doubt they will spend their lives thinking about how unattractive the person they passed on the street was.

Another breakthrough was when I was given a laser treatment for my scars and it didn’t help at all. The doctor insisted I carried on with sessions (and spend more money in his clinic). He also said: “You will be back in a few years for wrinkles treatment.” I was raging. For him my body was something to be constantly improved. Ageing was something to deny and fight against. I decided to see another doctor just to have a second opinion. Luckily, he was the opposite. “Are your scars something that stops you from being in relationships or enjoying your social life?” – he asked. “We can of course try different treatment that would, in my opinion, help. However, why not spend money on something else and just ignore these unimportant details which your scars are?”

Boy did I want to hear that!

This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly. What I can do now is to appreciate it as it is, support it, nourish it, listen to it, and thank it for being still strong and responsive.

What I would like my relationship with my body be like in the nearest future is to love it even when it is ill, stiff and in pain. To understand its limits and accept changes. That is the challenge and it is not easy, but I will give it a try.

– a 32-year-old woman

“I think perhaps self-harm is something that never leaves your blood.”

Trigger warning for vivid descriptions of self-harm

I think perhaps self-harm is something that never leaves your blood. I no longer think of myself as someone who self-harms; it’s been a long time since I took apart a razor and longer – years – since I took one to my flesh. And yet as I sit here, my cuticles are ragged from tearing at them with my teeth in times of anxiety, I can see the ghosts of tooth marks on my arm where, months ago now, I bit myself so hard I almost drew blood. And it isn’t so long at all since the last time I let myself be overtaken by impotent rage and pummelled myself with my fists.

I have a cut on my hand just now, which was an accident. But feeling the pain as I press on it, and watching the miraculous day-to-day knitting together of flesh, makes me remember how very, very good it can feel to open up your own skin. It makes me remember the pain which can be controlled, second to second. It makes me remember my flesh crying tears of blood. The subsequent empty numbness and shame which is somehow so much better than the feeling that my very veins will explode with the rage and pain boiling inside them.

Sometimes there is nowhere else for pain to go. Sometimes pain has to become real before it can dissipate. When I used to cut myself, when I bite myself, hit myself, it’s a loss of control. And yet at the same time it’s making something manageable. It’s taking a feeling that I can’t articulate or push away and it’s making it into something concrete, a singular moment of pain that I can understand. I suppose it isn’t healthy, and it’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t feel that urge. It’s something you’re not supposed to talk about. The marks can be hard to hide, but you have to try and hide them because people will ask. And the truth isn’t the right answer. When people ask about my old scars on my thighs, I usually simply tell them, “Those are old.” It’s not an answer but it is, and usually they leave it at that. It’s easier when it’s something you used to do. There is no good explanation that doesn’t cause concern and embarrassment all round when someone asks about current injuries. “Oh that? I got angry one day and I bit myself till I bruised.” No one knows what to say to that, and I don’t want to put them in that position. And I know how mad it sounds when I say the words out loud.

Physical pain can be understood and dealt with right away, right in that moment where it happens. Emotional pain can spring up all over again, months and years after whatever caused it in the first place, and you can’t control it. When you cut yourself or bite yourself, it hurts exactly as much as you want it to. The purity of it is gorgeous, cause and effect of pain that can be managed there and then. When you have that pain to focus on, it isn’t confusing and multifaceted and incomprehensible. It is right there. It is real. Sometimes you just need to feel something you can understand.

Just the other day, I stopped myself from biting myself in anger and upset. My arm was at my lips, my mouth was open, and I stopped myself. I didn’t want to. I wanted to feel that pain, that instant moment of release. I wanted my anger to be channelled into something and I knew that, for a moment, it would help. What stopped me wasn’t a desire not to hurt myself, but the thought of the bruises that take so long to fade, and the toothmarks for which there is no adequate explanation. It wasn’t out of resistance to my own weakness that I stopped myself; it was out of embarrassment at being thought weak by others. People don’t talk about this very often. It is the preserve of the angsty teenager, the young person who can’t handle their emotions. Adults don’t lose control like that.

But we do. It is over ten years since the first time I remember hurting myself in anger. I remember vividly the boiling urge, sitting at the computer in my mum’s dining room, and running my long fingernails down my neck, hard. I remember the claw marks and wearing polo necks in June. I remember getting better at hiding it. Because the shame I feel of the fresh marks is still the same now as when I was 14. The way I feel right before I do it is still the same as when I was 14.

I hurt myself a lot less now than when I was a teenager, but the way it feels has never really changed. The boiling, burning desire; the momentary bliss; the ensuing shame. I am someone who can experience pain in a positive way as well. When I have enjoyed being tattooed, or play-piercing, or some kinky sex, it has never been about self-loathing or anger, but about the sensuous experience of controlled pain, and for me that is totally separate from the urges I can experience to hurt myself. Those are things I have done in a healthy state of mind, and not snap losses of control. I entered into them freely, to feel and experience them in a joyful way. When I hurt myself in anger or sadness, it is a totally different thing. There can be a tendency to conflate enjoying some kind of pain with the desire to self-harm, but that isn’t true for me and I suspect it isn’t for many other people as well. The pain of self-harm is almost incidental – it is a lot more about the emotional release. The pain is a tool to control my emotions, not the goal in itself.

I know that this is rambling and perhaps it seems self-indulgent. But I hope that someone reads it and recognises themselves, and feels less alone.

– a 25-year-old woman

“My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor.”

*Trigger warning for rape/sexual assault/self-harm/anorexia*

I’ve always been slightly proud of my body.

I’m gay, I have a very liberal attitude to sex and sexuality (I actually work in an erotic boutique!) and, while I’ve never thought my body was ideal, I know that I’m slim and I have nice boobs and a nice be-hind. I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin. It ain’t perfect, but it’s the only one I’ve got so I might as well love it.

I was sexually assaulted and then raped. My initial reaction was to not think about it. To bury it in the recesses of my mind and, essentially, run away, made sense.
I became anorexic and started self-harming. This was because these people, who had taken advantage of me, had so much control over me; even now, when I’ve not seen them for years, they control so much of my life.

I used to be bisexual – now I couldn’t consider having an intimate relationship with a man.

Sometimes, I’d be in a perfectly good mood, when BOOM, I’d start to cry, or to have a panic attack.

Starving or harming myself were forms of control: people who have hurt me controlled my sexuality, my emotions, whether I felt strong enough to out of bed in the morning. I had control over my weight and my physical pain.

I had all these scars over me, and I was dangerously thin. I hated my body. I looked in the mirror and loathed what I saw: a scrawny, scratched and scarred girl. Not the strong confident woman I knew and wanted to be.

Through counselling, support from friends, and learning to accept what happened to me, I got better. It took time and there were so many times I just wanted to give up, but I got better.

Through counselling, I learned not to put what happened behind me or to forget about it, but to confront it, accept it, and move on with it. I now see it as something which shaped me into the strong, confident, compassionate, caring person I am.
And that includes my body. I still use bio-oil to reduce the scars, and I’m no longer underweight, but I love my scars. My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor. Someone who was close to death, who cut herself and who punished her body and nearly gave up on everything and everyone, but didn’t.

My scars say: “remember that time, and be thankful for this time”. They say “you’re a strong, confident woman; you’re not that girl any more”. But most of all, they say “well done”.

“When I was growing up, I always felt a little heartbroken.”

*Trigger warning for self-harm*

When I was growing up, I always felt a little heartbroken.

I think it started at school, when I was the girl in the game of ‘spin the bottle’ that no one ever wanted to kiss. I still remember when one of my classmates (who I kinda fancied) asked everyone why they were punishing him when he got a dare of having to give me a peck on the cheek. I never played ‘spin the bottle’ again. After all, why would I make anyone subject themselves to the torture of touching repulsive me.

I was never picked to be at the front in the class photos and always got picked last in PE. Not that it really upsets me now. I never liked sports, playing basketball was like the 7th layer of hell…Yeah, I was an awkward teenager, with loads of acne and an inability to stand up for myself. And thanks to other kids/teenagers in school, I’ve learnt to be really, really cruel to myself.

At the age of 14 not only did I let other people mentally hurt me, I started physically hurting myself. For a few years, cutting was the only way to feel. I even used to carry a razor blade under the cover of my phone in case things got ‘too much’ at school. And all the time I was injuring myself, I felt like I deserved it. Each scar on my arm was for some special reason. My ‘ugly’ nose. My ‘ugly’ eyes. My ‘ugly’ hair. My ‘ugly’ legs. I even went to extremes of thinking that my toes were really hideous because, I thought, I had abnormally small toe nails.

I must’ve been really out of luck, because when I got my first boyfriend (at that point it seemed like a miracle that anyone would ever use their time to spend with me), the nicest thing he ever said was, ‘You’re not the ugliest girlfriend I ever had’.

See? I hope now you understand why I was so heartbroken all the time.

Thankfully, it wasn’t all shit. By the time I was 16, I became the cool depressed goth kid. And that landed me with the young Kurt Cobain-looking boyfriend. The one that all the girls wanted. It’s funny, because up to this day I still want to hold up my middle fingers at every girl who bullied me and shout “Fuck you, bitches, the hot guy thinks I’m hot!”.

In ideal world I should never have suffered what I suffered, or worst of all, thought it was my own fault. But this is not an ideal world and I’m making the best of it. I slowly started building my confidence again. I kissed a lot of boys. I kissed a lot of girls. Learnt that I’m not that ugly at all. Now I’m 22 and do nude life modelling to make extra cash. And sure, I still get my heartbroken days, when my lumps and bumps seem too lumpy and bumpy and my toenails just seem too small, but at least now I have the resilience to say ‘fuck it all’, put a pair of heels on and maybe flash somebody at the pub.

“I love my body but your entries made me cry because I am so far from feeling comfortable in my skin.”

I love my body but your entries made me cry because I am so far from feeling comfortable in my skin. I’m strong and fast. I have perfect eye-sight and good balance. I have a high sex-drive and a good pair of lungs and no matter how much I poison my body, it keeps healing. It’s true what you say about the scars. When I look at them, I think of healing, not pain.

But then there’s other people. There’s the men in my life. And the women. And there’s being a queer feminist, which is a very different experience to that of most self-empowered women. All around me I see women embracing their curves and their femininity, having fun with fashion, displaying their sexuality and learning to love their bodies and feel attractive.

I feel like I can’t travel this road with my female comrades. I can’t embrace my femininity because it repulses me. I don’t mean that I want to be male. I’m proud (insofar as you can be) to be a woman. I wish I could dance and be naked and feel free but I don’t feel that I can in this gendered environment. I think a large part of anyone’s self-esteem is constituted by sexual confidence, maybe more for women than for men. But I can’t see how this confidence can exist independently of how others see me. The problem is that, rather than change my own way of thinking, I’m waiting for society to break down so that I can be free of prescribed roles and this will never happen.

The key is not to care what others think. Easier said than done. But what about the other thing? What about feeling attractive with a partner? How can you be attractive without becoming a ”woman”?

I hope this makes some sense…

by an anonymous woman