Learning to accept my self-harm scars

TW: Frank discussion about self harm

“Every person’s relationship with their scars will be different; I am only just beginning to accept mine”. Gina Lloyd shares her personal journey of acceptance.

I’ve been a part of the body positivity movement for a few years now and it has helped me to accept and love my body more than I ever thought possible. I’m not ashamed to say that I love my chunky thighs and my soft, squishy belly. I no longer feel self conscious about my height because I’ve learnt to embrace it; I love being tall and I’ll wear heels to be even taller. I have even learnt to love the stretch marks on my thighs and bum. It took a while but I now think of them as pretty signs of growth. All in all, the BoPo movement has taught me to love almost every inch of my size 14, 5’10”, curvy and perfectly imperfect body. But the important word there is almost. I feel as though my journey to the complete body acceptance I crave is being stopped by one thing in particular: my self-harm scars.

Anyone who knows me will know that I’ve struggled with self-harm for a very long time. Years of cutting and burning have left my arms and legs scarred. Noticeably. Faint, white lines cover the length of my left arm and both of my thighs are crosshatched with thick, pink keloid scars. For years I would cover up my healing scars and open wounds with long sleeves and trousers to avoid questions. It was just easier.

isabel kilbourn for self harm article

Now that I practice pole fitness a few times a week and the outfits we wear don’t really cover that much, my scars are often out for everyone to see. Some days this doesn’t bother me; other days I am so embarrassed that I just want to cover my body up for the rest of my life. It’s funny that most of the anxiety I have around my scars is based on what other people may think when in reality I have received a grand total of two negative reactions.

My scars are not sexy or tragic or beautiful. But they are a part of my body and so I must find a way of accepting them. That’s hard when their presence can bring back so many bad memories. I don’t know the story of every scar I have but I could show you the ones from a bad break up some years ago or the ones from my breakdown in first year. These are not times I like to remember but when I look at my body it’s like a postcard from that past event. And it’s tough moving on when your past is written on your skin.

Every BoPo post I’ve read as I’ve been trying to write this tells me to embrace my scars: to look on them as evidence of just how far I’ve come. One post suggests that I proudly refer to them as my “warrior marks” but I just cannot subscribe to this rhetoric. Given that I still occasionally engage in self-harm habits, I find it hard to see my scars as a purely ‘past’ event. Yes, I am proud of how far I’ve come in my recovery but my scars are not my only evidence. And no matter how hard I try I cannot see myself being proud of my scars; I just don’t want to be ashamed of them. My goal is to reach the point where I see my scars as purely factual, as an artefact of my mental illness but no more emotive to me than the fact that I have brown eyes or dark hair.

The place of self-harm scars within BoPo is always going to be a difficult one. On the one hand I know I should love every inch of my body the way it is and I want everyone else to love their bodies the same way. On the other hand I would NEVER want to glamourize my mental illness. Some people have self-harm scars, some people don’t. Every person’s relationship with their scars will be different; I am only just beginning to accept mine. If you have scars, I hope you can try your best to accept them because anyone who thinks any less of you for your past is not worth knowing. If you know someone with scars, be gentle, be patient, don’t force them to expose them when they are not comfortable. And whatever you do, never, ever point out someone’s scars to other people.

This article is about self-harm scars but if you or someone you know is actively self-harming and you are concerned, there is help available.

If you have been affected by anything in this article, the university’s support services are here to help: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students-health/services/mental-health/

Illustration by Isabel Kilborn

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