Trigger warning: this post contains frank discussions of self-harm and scarring. If that is likely to make things hard for you today, please go and read something else instead.
Topshop has come under fire this week for selling gold temporary tattoos which look like self-harm scars, under the tagline “flaws worth fighting for.” They aren’t explicitly marketed as relating to self-harm, but I’ve seen them, and it’s pretty obvious that’s what they look like. I’m furious.
I’m furious for many reasons: I think it trivialises something that wrecks lives, I think it’s dangerous because it plays into the trend for romanticising mental health problems as a mark of being ‘deep’ or ‘interesting’. I think it’s triggering and insensitive. I think they’re taking the rhetoric of self-love and self-affirmation – which is hard enough for most people to get behind – and making it into a flimsy marketing slogan. The hypocrisy of a high street shop whose mannequin sizes do nothing for anyone’s self-esteem preaching self-love is mind-boggling.
But mostly, I’m furious because this is not theirs. This is not their life to pick and choose the profitable parts, flog them off to people who want to try on a glam version of misery, and leave us with the reality. If this were a symbol that had grown out of a genuine desire within the mental health community to learn to accept ourselves, I would feel differently: it would still be problematic and potentially triggering, but I wouldn’t feel so used.
My scars don’t come off with soap and water. For such a long time, they were the most private thing I had: I spent my teenage years doing school P.E. in hoodies and hiding in the corner of the changing room, and once things reached a level where it was no longer possible to hide my injuries or my scars, I suffered and continue to suffer the consequences of that. I get the stares, the rude questions, the insensitive comments. There is nothing worth celebrating – worth “fighting for” – about the days I have wasted in hospital waiting rooms, the stink of antiseptic iodine, the mortifying embarrassment of the A&E nurses remembering my name from last time. And unless you have lived it too, you don’t get to tell me that there is.
I am learning to accept what I have done to my body, and the years I have lost hating it, because it is too late to change it now. But I am doing it on my terms, in my own time. How dare someone in a boardroom take that and use it to make money. How dare they pretend it is for the good of all of us.
Our relationships with our bodies and with our scars belong to us alone. Someone else’s profit has no place here.
P.S.: There is a petition here asking for the product to be withdrawn. Please note it contains a picture of – and a link to – the tattoos, which could potentially be triggering. Some of the arguments it puts forward are actually pretty patronising and stigmatising in themselves – it gives the impression, for instance, that people start self-harming just because they think it’s cool, which I don’t believe is the case, and that it’s something limited to impressionable teenagers. It also talks about “encouraging” self-harm which makes it seem like a fashion trend rather than a coping mechanism. However, it makes a good point about the damage it can cause to people who have actual self-harm scars, and at the moment it’s the only petition out there calling for Topshop to withdraw the product, so I signed it. A friend who has similar mental health problems to mine thought there was more bullshit it in it than usefulness, so she didn’t. I’ve put the link on here so you can decide which side of the line you think it falls on.