Category: society

I’ve been thinking about your body. Have you been thinking about mine?

Bodies have been on my mind. I read two very interesting posts this week on bodies thanks to the savvy Clementine Ford who shared a great piece by Whitney Teal and then wrote her own response. Both pieces are on the idea of the “right kind” of body, or the idea of what might be deemed an attractive body by society, marketers, the media or anyone who wants to register bodies to be good, bad, better, worse or unacceptable.

Each of us have a concept of what we want our bodies to be and what we think our bodies should be. That might be related to size, shape or level of perceived attractiveness. They can be considered in relation to labels of gender and sexuality. For some bodies might be a considered as to how they operate; able, disabled, healthy, sick, strong or weak or even the ability of our bodies to give life to others, take life away or be built upon in some form of cyborg, more human than human capacity. Bodies can be discussed in relation to numerous academic disciplines and intellectual perspectives and the dialogues that happen around this issue are rich in debate and detail.

Like most people I have my own ideas and issues around bodies; my body. As mentioned in the article by Teal, I’ve found the recent popularisation of the hour glass figure problematic. While I have a body size that generally meets societal acceptation, there remains plenty of other ways I can deem myself to be lacking or unacceptable by imposed standards of beauty and or femineity. The “real women have curves” tag line was long a point of contention as a formerly skinny up and down teen. In recent years the hour glass figure “trend” in fashion has seen shopping for clothes become frustrating as my body’s curves are apparently not in the appropriate places. When talking about bodies and beauty, one woman’s empowerment can be another’s dismissal (of course this issue is not resigned to women only).

I’m not anti fashion; I understand the drive of marketing and advertising it’s just become apparent that I may not be part of the key target market for fashion and beauty products. The images of models doe eyed and mouths pursed in a breathless shape confuse me. I don’t want to channel the 1950’s as a dolled up housewife or alternative sexy pin-up. I don’t want to be Miranda Kerr, Kim Kardashian or Beyonce (I’m sure they’re all nice enough). Many of my clothing choices these days come down to comfort – will this be suitable for sitting at my desk all day and comfortable enough to walk across campus to my car? Can I eat a large bowl of pasta without having to undo a button? How quickly can this be removed in the heat of the moment?

I recently had a conversation with a male friend about female appearances and in particular makeup. In a conversation about our respective love lives I mentioned being at a bar with my person of interest aware that I was probably the only female in the room not wearing makeup. My male friend sounded surprised at my barefaced choice “you didn’t wear makeup?!” I explained to my friend that while I do like wearing makeup (I trained in makeup artistry many years ago) I no longer feel the need to wear it often. Interestingly enough, he went on to tell me he thought one his person’s of interest wore too much makeup and that this in part was a deterrent for him. So even though he himself does not find heavily made-up faces attractive he still held belief that makeup was a protocol of the dating ritual. Tracey Spicer delivered a fabulous talk on the ideals held about women’s personal “presentation” in the workplace that I’d highly recommend. Ritual and representation plays a key part in our thinking about bodies, beauty and presentation. Comparison and evaluation of worth is part of that ritual for many of us.

Our bodies can directly impact our sense of worth. The academic discourses around bodies are often raised in relation to my work. When discussing self-injury words like embodiment are used; lines are drawn to the patriarchal impact on women’s bodies and the idea of the “skin-ego”. This work has its intellectual place and may be more relevant to some people’s experiences with self-injury than others. As I see it self-injury is self-worth impacting on the body (as opposed to the other way around). The self-injury body relationship is a strange one and likely varies due to the underlying issues and experiences of the individual.  The experience of the scarred body is subjected to conventions of beauty and expectation of presentation. In online discussions on self-injury many who bare scars discuss their choice to “wear my scars” while others may choose to try to cover or conceal theirs. Some express that their scars are not significant enough and the same processes of comparison and value that occurs in relation to body size, shape etc can play out in relation to the severity of others scarring. I found that when my PhD shifted to the topic of self-injury many were surprised asking if I actually had scars, or exclaiming that my scars did not look any more noticeable than any individual who had an adventurous childhood. Is there a perceived “right kind” of self-injury body?

How I should feel about my self-injury body has at times been imposed on me by others. Many years ago I had a boyfriend who insisted on scrubbing my scars with harsh methods of exfoliation and tried to “help me” find the best potions and lotions to reduce my scars visibility. Before these experiences I can’t recall being bothered by the marks on my skin. I had another experience when I was chastised for not concealing my self-injured body. This individual claimed that by not doing so I was attempting to wear my self-injury as a “badge of honour”, the accuser drew a parallel to his sexuality “I’m gay but I don’t come in here wearing arseless chaps”. If these are the ideals placed upon the self-injury body then the assumption is that scars must be of a thick keloid appearance to be warranted as sufficiently damaged, self-injury bodies must also be kept out of sight to avoid imposing upon others and that self-injury bodies should be seen as in need of repair.

I’m not planning to offer solutions to any of the ideas or issues raised here. We each have our own choices to make when it comes to bodies and the expectations and conventions placed upon them. In my mind when it comes to our bodies, they are nobody’s business but our own.

Stories on skin – talking about self injury on SIAD

Never is written on my inner right thigh. It is not printed in ink; it is embedded in the flesh, written in scar tissue. I remember how I got this scar because I remember cutting the word into my skin.

March 1st is Self Injury Awareness Day – the goal is to discuss the realities of self injury and reduce stigma for those who are affected by self injury. Self Injury is still surrounded by myth, taboo and limited understanding – I hope to contribute to changing this through my own research and writing. Why? Because I self injure.

Self injury, self harm, NSSSI (non-suicidal superficial self injury), self abuse, self mutilation, cutting – the list of terms used to describe this behaviour is long and speaks to the confusion that surrounds the behaviour. For the sake of this post I will be using the term self injury. The terms I’ve listed here are what we find in academic, health and clinical literature and media. The labels that are used socially are much more problematic – emo, sicko, attention seeker, psycho, length ways not across- get it right… these labels can all be summed up in one easy term – bullshit!

Jokes about self injury, comments trivialising the behaviour and general ignorance only contribute to the shame, guilt and lack of knowledge experienced by self injurers and those that care for them. Not only do I find this reaction or treatment of the topic hurtful but I can also find it triggering*. Self injury is more common than you think yet the taboo’s still exist leaving many to continue to carry the secret and refuse to seek help when needed.

*Triggering – when using this term in relation to self injury it refers to “setting off”, something that causes the individual to want to injure themselves or to think about injuring themselves.)

Some people in my life know that I am a self injurer but I am now undertaking a discussion and investigation about my experience with self injury which is more open and in depth than I’ve ever been before. The process of doing so is incredibly confronting – not just for me but for those who know me. I do not find it easy to talk about my relationship with self injury however I think it is an important discussion to have. The literature that does exist comes from a psychological, medical, care or sociological perspective. Most accounts from self injurers themselves are anonymous and generally gathered and edited by others. Discussions of self injury in the media are often presented in a sensationalised way, we hear of the ‘epidemic’, we hear that it is a ‘youth issue’ and the behaviour may be ‘shocking’!

Self injury is surrounded by egg shells and while care and compassion is needed, pity and reference to self injurers as ‘victims’ does little to reduce stigma. Because of the stigma around self injury the internet has always been an important resource for both information and support. I found internet forums particularly useful when I first began seeking help. I am now combining my research into social media and the self with my personal experience with self injury and refocusing my PhD in an effort to raise awareness and fill the gabs in the literature to help create understanding – not just for others but also for myself.

Here are two links that provide a general overview about self injury (more broadly discussed as self harm):

http://www.kidshelp.com.au/grownups/news-research/hot-topics/self-harm.php

http://www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help/Facts—Information/Self-harm/Self-harm

These links are a starting point. Understanding self injury is not straight forward. There is still a lot of research to be done. Therefore the purpose of this post is awareness. Be aware of how you think about self injury, how you engage in discussion of self injury how you react to self injury – be this as someone who self injures, someone who treats self injurers, someone who knows someone who self injures or someone who knows nothing about self injury… if you don’t understand self injury don’t make assumptions.

Writing this post also serves the purpose of my own self awareness. Embarking on a project where I am discussing my own experience is challenging. I have to confront my own fears and preconceptions of how I will be viewed and treated. I am opening myself to criticism, subjecting myself to material that will be upsetting and testing my own abilities to care for myself.

I am asking you the reader to simply, be aware:

If you know me personally be aware that I am undertaking this testing project. Ask me questions if you have any. Be aware that I will need your continued support throughout this project.

If you are a self injurer I hope you have a strong support network. Do try and seek support in a way that you are comfortable with. There are many good organisations online or alternatively talk to your GP or call a help line. You are not alone. I am not seeking research participants for my work but am happy to receive feedback and suggestions of resources or particular issues you feel need to be addressed in the discussion of self injury.

Do you want to start talking about your self injury? Read this:

http://www.lifesigns.org.uk/out/

What can you do if you know someone who self injures? Firstly don’t treat them differently, don’t try to fix them, don’t try and control their behaviour and don’t treat them as fragile. You need to operate within your abilities. Simply ask them if you can do anything to support them, encourage them to seek professional help if necessary (or willing), basically let them know that you care about them, respect them and if they need to talk you will listen without judgement.

Know someone who self injures and want to help? Read this:

http://www.lifesigns.org.uk/others/

***

Want to know more about my story?

You can stay informed about my research via this blog or by liking my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/belindawrites

I can also be found on

Twitter @belindawrites

Academic.edu http://griffith.academia.edu/BelindaHilton

LinkedIn  http://au.linkedin.com/pub/belinda-hilton/2b/14a/180

IMPORTANT – Please note: I am a creative writer and researcher and am not trained in mental health or counselling. I am writing my first novel which features a protagonist who self injures and my exegesis will be discussing the research that accompanies this novel and my experiences reflecting on self injury, creative writing and social media. The novel is a work of fiction and not a memoir or autobiography. This is a work in progress and therefore subject to change through process.

If you need help now please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 (Australia)

http://www.lifeline.org.au/About-Lifeline/Contact-Us/Contact-Us/default.aspx

 http://www.ruokday.com/supporters/crisis-support/

Bless this mess – mental health and social media

Originally published  16th November 2012 on http://belindawrites.tumblr.com/ 

Republished here with minor corrections.

What an interesting week. Not so much for myself but more so for my friends, followers and the general audience of my social media. My posts have been messy, because I have felt messy. Depending how much you pay attention or how well you know me you may or may not be aware that I have a history of mental health issues. I have been in and out of therapy and on and off medication since the age of seventeen. I am open about this… why?

When I first sought help for my mental health no one talked about depression, self harm or anything of the likes. Information was scarce and attitudes were mostly “I don’t know and I don’t want to know”. This was in 1999… not that long ago. At the time I what little information I could find was found in online forums. The web and mental health have long been good friends. The anonymous web allowed those experiencing issues to find each other and know that they were not alone. Awareness has grown, the web has grown.

I use social media for a variety of purposes and my lines between personal and professional are very blurry, and given that my profession is ‘writer’ than this is not an issue. Being a writer and being at times, emotional, revealing and unhinged is completely reasonable. Therefore I am quite happy to be open about my mental health problems and to blur these lines. Life is messy, my thoughts are often messy and hence my social media is very messy.

One of my favourite things about social media is that it’s often chaotic, it’s not slick and the content is not always glossy, edited and filtered. If it was, we would probably log out.

I am open about having mental health issues as I can be. Not everyone can. I speak about my experiences because I’m comfortable doing so and it helps me to sometimes shout out into the abyss… i.e., post crap online for whomever to see it. I am not a professional, I may not be able to tell you what to do but if you or someone else has their own struggles with mental health then seeing that someone else does, and experiences things similar to you, and is somehow still managing to get an education and use their mind and if that brings you some comfort, then – hooray, worth it!

Alrighty, so this week I’ve been off my meds. I was on a reduced dose last week and am now on day five of no Lexapro. Wednesday I had a good day, went for a big walk, felt up and motivated. Yesterday was another story. Yesterday the depression hit me square in the jaw. I posted a lot of sad, lonely, quotes and caused my friends some worry with one post containing a lot of swearing. Bless, this lead to phone calls, texts and several private messages and comments checking to see if I was ok. I was down but not at high risk of harm. However the fact that I can shout at the social media abyss and that people heard it and responded is testament to how helpful social media can be, especially when you have a problem with your mental health.

Thank you to those who did reach out to me. Thank you to those who take the time to read my posts. Thank you to those that have thanked me for my posts.

If you want to enjoy clean lines, smooth surfaces and neat order I suggest you take a trip to IKEA, my social media sites may not be for you.

Need help or information on mental health? Talk to your GP or contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or check out http://www.beyondblue.org.au orhttp://www.who.int/mental_health/en/www.beyondblue.org.auor http://www.who.int/mental_health/en/