Self harm

Self harm isn't always about cutting, says Nino. Too many girls and women are holding themselves back from fully living

Nino, 2 July 2008

Self harm doesn't just mean cutting open your arms and pouring boiling water on them. It ranges from starving yourself, to giving birth, to ridiculous beauty treatments and tolerating abusive, unappreciative partners. Lifting weights and getting in fights as the stereotypical male does, aren't actually particularly hardcore or challenging compared to the amount of physical and emotional pain we as females opt to put ourselves through. It's so much easier to be hit by someone else than it is to hit yourself. But attacking and judging ourselves are an everyday focus for women and girls worldwide. Only when we get too skinny are we seen as really harming ourselves. Or our arms get too scarred. Or we jump in front of train. Or swallow a bunch of pills. But, in reality, it seems to have become perfectly acceptable, and indeed a given part of being a woman, to harm ourselves on a daily basis without anyone really giving a shit.

Somehow society has drilled it into us that this is completely fine. Because in fact, we deserve all the pain. It's the Eve theory all over again. The lass who apparently brought sin into the world, and encouraged man to do the same. This justification is completely unreasonable. It's like saying that because George Bush kills so many innocent people and talks so much crap, all Americans are to blame. We should punish them. Or Islamophobia - because a few idiots make up their own interpretations and decide to go on a killing spree, all the Muslims should suffer. These are views held by some people, but challenged by many. Yet when it comes to this Eve bullshit, nobody questions the fact that this misplacement of blame is just that. Bullshit. Women might argue, but we generally accept that we deserve to be persecuted, because it's an idea a male-driven society has drilled into us.

I began self harming (in the physical, textbook sense) when I stopped being able to cry. I needed to physically be able to see a release of my anger. Of course now I realise how much more satisfying the release of sweat from a hardcore workout is. But the oddest thing I noticed from people's reaction to what I was doing was that they were more bothered about how it looked. Not that it made me look fucked in the head, or pained, or needy. It was the fact that they didn't understand that being flawless physically, perfect, pretty and smooth and easy to take isn't the top of my list of priorities. The fact that by doing probably the most self absorbed thing I've ever done embarrassed people as opposed to worrying them is something I find extremely disturbing. They would much rather I cried, ate ice cream and watched Armageddon when things fucked up right? I'd much rather go for a 20-mile run in the middle of the night and draw pictures on my flesh.

Ophelia is an average girl. After being treated with so much disrespect and apathy she convinces herself of her own lowliness. Of her own unworthiness to exist

It's like we're in a massive picture frame, with a stencilled outline of what we should be, what people expect us to be. And as soon as we change the colours, go over the lines and bash at the frame; people would rather take the frame off the wall and lay it face down than take a closer look. So we constantly feel the need to have our heads down. No matter how sure of our own abilities we are.

In one of the world's most anaylsed pieces of art, Shakespeare's Hamlet, the women are illustrated as responsible for their own misfortune. Hamlet's mother is presented as a whore for remarrying after her husband's death - no one bothers to suggest that perhaps she is lonely and needs the support of marriage with someone she knows and loves well. But the principal victim in the entire play is Ophelia. She is used by her father, abused and confused by Hamlet and judged by the rest of the court. But perhaps there is a sub-plot nobody bothered to mention. Perhaps Hamlet's denial of his love for her and her father's death have nothing to do with her own 'madness' and there's a much more complex reason we are unaware of. But when she 'becomes insane', everyone would rather stand back and stare; her suicide almost comes as a relief to the court. She is presented as a weak character who gives in to the easiest option. Everyone questions Hamlet's madness and behaviour, drawing their own analogies, suggesting he may not be mad, his actions are justified and his pain is shared by the audiences. But nobody takes that approach with the lass. Ophelia is an average girl. After being treated with so much disrespect and apathy she convinces herself of her own lowliness. Of her own unworthiness to exist. And so she proceeds to harm herself further. It is a more drastic and vivid illustration of women and girls today. Shakespeare's choice not to show her suicide reflects society's choice to just chat about self harm as a topic of discussion and judgement as opposed to acting in addressing the root cause.

This is an idea common in popular literature. In Prozac Nation, Elizabth Wurtzel's self harm is received as madness and 'typical bipolar' by the average reader. Nobody considers that her self loathing is a response to the rest of the world's attitude towards her. Why does it take her so long to recover? She doesn't allow herself. Deep down she doesn't think she deserves freedom from her depression. She tells herself that what she deserves is what she wants, and what someone else has convinced her she does not deserve - she decides does not want. She becomes completely indifferent to the difference between happiness and depression.

As women, what does society expect us to succeed in? Motherhood? Beauty?

"As soon as I was out in the street, I realised I didn't want to be alone after all, realized I didn't want to be anything at all."

Sylvia Plath's writing is saturated with a deliberate self mutilation. In Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, all the women Toru comes in contact with are presented as strong, beautiful, complicated individuals. Yet they all settle for less than what they deserve, because for some reason they think that is all they are capable of having. Usually due to the way they have been treated by their partners, fathers or other male figures. They find self harming, in whatever form it may be, is a huge component in their regular lives.

The closest anyone has really come to explaining this common trait of the female sex is a psychological theory known as "learned helplessness". It's a theory mostly associated with the long-term tolerance of domestic abuse. It states that initially, we may fight something that is painful, but when the solutions seem too hard and complicated we give up fighting. Until eventually we see no solutions or possible alternatives and settle on what we're hit with. Literally. It's like we reach the conclusion that if this is happening to us, it should be; we deserve it. Therefore there's really no point avoiding it, we just put up with it as a part of our lives, no matter how much it might hurt. This theory was the result of a series of experiments done on dogs. They proposed an explanation for common female personality traits by using dogs. Need I say any more?

Because I grew up in a 'middle way' I found it hard to comprehend many of the attitudes present on either side of me. Only now have I realised that it is really up to me to decide on my own morals, question my own actions and justify my own decisions. Not that I don't still get scared shitless. Two things that absolutely terrify me are love and failure. Love because it makes you weak. And failure because it proves you're weak. But there are so many misrepresentations of love. Most people don't even get it. And as for failure, we all measure it differently, as well as success. But as women, what does society expect us to succeed in? Motherhood? Beauty?

I just don't get it. Why should I set myself limits below my capabilities? Why should I set myself limits at all? Why should I be content with being less than I am?

My biggest success to date is my youth work. But setting up my youth group became weirdly sinister for me. When my mate Lid and I started it all, our main focus was positive youth development and integration in the city that has become a part of who we are. We wanted to do something we love, use it for a purpose and grow ourselves, both in beats and integrity. The first and foremost reactions took none of this on board. People were more interested in the fact that here was a German Asian dancer drumming hip hop breaks and a Polish artist drumming drum n bass; both lasses defying our stereotypes. It wasn't something that crossed our minds. We would rather be respected for what we do as opposed to what we are. The response was mixed. Some parents were eager for their kids to come jam with us, some covered their kids' eyes and ushered them away. The biggest response we've got is from lads not much older than us. Some who are totally into it and fully supportive and helpful. And some who are blatant spengs. Idiots who make a great deal of effort to sabotage our cause. Purely because they can't accept that we have chosen to do what we want to do. As opposed to sitting at home and starving our lives out, letting our dreams and aspirations fade into a TV screen like every good little girl should do.

You know what lads?

I'm alright ta.

I just don't get it. Why should I set myself limits below my capabilities? Why should I set myself limits at all? Why should I be content with being less than I am?

Some sectors of society preach 'decency' and a woman's honour, when in fact all they practise is suppression and distortion. They make women feel ashamed of their bodies. Like it's indecent to admit you are a woman. Somehow, it's automatically assumed that we are embarrassed of our sex. They cannot comprehend that being comfortable in our skin is how we gain comfort and security in our own identities. If we are unable to do so, our soul, our chi, our spirit... the invincible part of us that makes us who we are, is entirely lost, and we are unable to really do anything with our lives. Other than keep ourselves busy with pointless activities as we wait to die. Your soul never dies. But you can misplace it and, hell, you can lose it.

Drugs are brilliant. They give you this amazing sense of capability and possibility entwined with apathy, honesty and freedom. But they twist you, control you and destroy you to a point where you cannot see where they end and you begin. Similar to how your own self insecurities galvanise your identity to the point of no return. Some suggest that women find it easier to become hooked on drugs, because as women, that feeling is so very rare to us. And once we experience it, it is so hard to go back to the monotony of self harm and duty. Of self harm in duty. You cry yourself to sleep, but the next morning, you put on your make up, straighten your hair, and leave the house smiling in case anyone should see you. Because the irony of it all is that we choose to hide this self harm from ourselves and those around us. Even though we internally beg for change - we do not seek it. Because, and I apologise if you feel like I'm going round in circles here, we are convinced that we do not deserve it.

The point I'm trying to make is that no one was born deserving anything but their basic human rights. After that, it's our actions and our beliefs that really hold fort when it comes to success, satisfaction and respect. What we do and don't deserve fluctuates regularly throughout our lives as we continually make the mistakes which make us human and train us for our later achievements. Being ashamed or sorry purely for being born is not something anyone should tolerate. I don't want to hold back from something because it might hurt me, whether it's attempting to dance on a BMX or letting someone love me. But I shouldn't feel this obsessive need to do something every day that I know is going to hurt at some point. Like that's the closest I'll ever get to success. Like pain is the closest I'll ever get to being a real woman.

About the author

Nino

Nino is a 17-year-old, Bradford-based, German-born, Asian-rooted writer. She writes for several leading hip hop and art magazines and websites. She reviews, promotes and interviews conscious hip hop artists. The artists she works with defy the mainstream misogynistic gangster front, and attempt to tackle the various issues its apathy raises. She runs a non-profit youth organisation - Bradford Rhythm Riots, which is all about integration, expression and individualisation. Their activities are endless, but all they do works around the drum kit as the core focus. She has being drumming, breakin', krumping and doing martial arts for more than 11 years. Rhythm and language are her favourite weapons.

Author's Articles | Author's Website

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