Tattooing and Self Injury

If you read about self injury very much you will find people insistently declaring that tattooing, scarification and traditional rituals are not classed as self injury. The question we must ask is, why?

I have five tattoos, which I like very much. I also like my scars. I enjoyed the sensation when getting my tattoos in the same way. They are injuries (a tattoo is, at root, an injury to the body) inflicted by my will upon my body. My scars are injuries inflicted by my will upon my body. What then is the difference between self injury and tattooing? Marilee Strong, in her book A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain provides an alternative viewpoint to the standard view:

"These may be viewed as the more bizarre but perhaps more socially acceptable forms of self-harm. The fine line between fashion and ‘psychologically disturbed cutting’ is examined but not resolved. There are many similar issues in cutting and getting a tattoo, but usually they are seen as distinct. A tattoo or body-piercing are rarely as spontaneous as self-injury."

There is the clue. "Socially acceptable forms of self-harm". That is the reason why tattoo and piercing fans are separated from self injurers, because their injuries are socially and culturally acceptable. The same applies to ritual scarification and body modifications like branding. Even though people may dislike them very much (a search for anti-tattoo produces many results) tattoos are still more acceptable than self inflicted scarring.

My question is why. Why are tattoos acceptable and scarring is not? Why should one be seen as a disorder because some nebulous group has decided it is culturally wrong, and the other be ok?

I object to being classified as ill and wrong for self injuring when I could go and get tattoos with the same purpose in mind, the same enjoyment of the pain and of the physical change of the skin. Particularly as tattoos and piercings, along with self harm scars, are indicative of personality disorders.

My call to you, Reader, is to challenge your doctor if, upon discovering that you self injure you are told that this means you are mentally ill. If you don't like SI and still find yourself doing it, that is one thing, but if you enjoy it, are safe and careful with it - then challenge the idea that we are ill for self injuring but are not ill for piercing our ears.

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