Scarred for life

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  July 10, 2008
“People are ashamed,” she says, pointing out that while it’s estimated that 1 in 10 young adults self-harms, many people would say they’d never met anyone who did so., the Web site for S.A.F.E. Alternatives, an educational and treatment-resource organization, outlines how the closeted nature of the self-harm phenomenon has hindered the ability of both mental-health professionals and society at large to address the problem: “Self-injury used to be an obscure psychiatric symptom. Most therapists didn't ever think they would be treating clients who engaged in these behaviors. The escalation of these behaviors has been so rapid that school, hospital, criminal justice, and mental health professionals have been caught off guard without the appropriate resources.”

In some ways, the lingering stigma associated with self-injury is similar to that of depression: sufferers fear that their actions will be misinterpreted as cries for unnecessary attention, or manipulation. Rather than be misunderstood, cutters hide. “People that cut need to not be as scared,” Kate says. “I just want people to know they’re not alone.”

Kate also hopes to achieve some insight and closure related to her own cutting history, both by writing and by reading other people’s stories, she says: “Another part is that this is going to be a healing process for me.”

Sharing stories

In collecting and posting other people’s perspectives, Kate is modeling her Web site in part after her friend Jill Beilke’s blog, The Body Image Project.

Beilke, who lives in Massachusetts, launched her blog in November 2007; she’s posted 75 confessionals since then. Each post is accompanied not by a name, but by an age — posters range from 15 to 70.

“I literally see every pound on my body,” a 33-year-old wrote in June. “If I gain weight, I know exactly where the new pounds go. I see the fat. I wish I wasn’t so acutely aware...but I can’t walk past a mirror without examining every inch of body just to make sure. My mood is determined by the scale — my happiness is reflected in the number that looks up at me. I no longer have weight — my body — controls me.”

Not all of the posts are negative.

“I don’t consider myself to be beautiful, but it doesn’t matter,” a 21-year-old writes. “I am happy with what I see in the mirror and I know that guys are attracted to me. It’s taken a lot to change the way I see myself, and sometimes I slip and see fat, but it’s ok because I don’t let it define me.”

Beilke, who is 31 and works as a meeting planner, started the blog because she believes that negative self-image, mostly among women, is “a growing epidemic.” She reads every submission (most come by e-mail, although some arrive via snail mail, with visual components), and she and Kate both say that with the exception of extremely negative commentary, just about anything is acceptable material.

“With each new story, I am taken aback with the honesty expressed by the author,” Beilke says.

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