speaking out loud about self harm scarring

TRIGGER WARNING: I know I don’t usually do these, but usually I am just writing. Today there will be a close-up image of self-harm scars, which are healed but can still be quite jarring. Just to warn you.

Happy Friday! Ah, it truly is the most magical day of the week. I can basically taste Saturday, and it tastes delicious. But before that - I must continue to work. No rest for the wicked. And I’m off out to a show tonight featuring Glew, Flynn Rideher, and Chanel No 5 which at this point should not come as a surprise to anyone. But I digress.

The real point of this post is to discuss a cool thing I did two weeks ago with Refinery29 and a whole bunch of really cool women.

I saw a casting call a couple months back, and I can’t for the life of me remember where (it might have been the r29 Money Diaries Facebook page, but I don’t have that kind of memory). They were searching for people with different kinds of skin, and different blemishes or marks etc etc. I’m loathe to call any of them ‘skin issues’ or ‘skin problems’, because they are neither problems or issues, but I’m also finding it really hard to find the language to actually describe what they were looking for. Basically, they wanted people who had scars and freckles and birthmarks and eczema and psoriasis and all manner of different things(?) that affect the skin to take part in an anonymous shoot and interview.

Quite clearly, I have waived my anonymity to write this piece, but I wanted to highlight how cool it was. I responded to the casting call with an image of my self harm scars on my right arm, because I never see anyone in the media who has the same kind of scars that I do.

Big, raised, visible, purple scars.

My scars are noticeable. People notice them. And I wanted to take part in the r29 shoot in the hopes that someone out there resonated with my story, and saw themselves in my scars. Because it would have meant so much, and still would mean so much, to see more people who look like me in the media. Although that’s a catch-22, because I also want so badly for no-one else to feel the way I did when those scars were created.

My words, design taken from the Refinery29 website

My words, design taken from the Refinery29 website

I am really rambling on here, I do apologise.

Anyway. Last Saturday. No, two Saturdays ago. I headed to Fulham for the shoot in this gorgeous house (and snacks provided!), and felt so comfortable straight away. The woman who worked for r29, Jacqueline, and the photographer were two of the nicest women I have ever met, and it was delightful getting to meet some of the other women taking part in the shoot too. Kind of weird though, introducing yourself and explaining what skin thing brought you there that day.

‘Cordelia, scars.’

Not the way I usually introduce myself, but fun nonetheless to just acknowledge that yes, I do have prominent and visible scars and they are a part of myself and not something to hide away.

If you’ve noticed in some of my past blog photography, often when I swatch products I will use the clean space on my left forearm, but there isn’t much clean space. That means that in many of my swatch photographs, you can see the silvery scars left behind, and I deliberately don’t point these out or edit them away, because I want to normalise having scars on your arm. Not normalise self-harm, because hurting yourself isn’t the answer. But having self-inflicted scars on your arm doesn’t make you a bad person, or mean you can never show that skin ever again. I want it to be normal in the media and in real life for people to have scars, and those scars to just be there as a thing that is on someone and isn’t a big deal.

Because for me, now, it isn’t a big deal.

I don’t hide my arms, I don’t cover up in most situations, I just live my life. And some people find that odd. I often notice people looking at me when I have short sleeves on, whereas I fade more into the background when my arms are covered. I don’t know what those people are thinking, I don’t know if they’re judging me, I don’t know if they think I should cover up, I don’t know whether they have scars themselves. To me, they are just scars. And yes, it’s been a long journey to get to this point.

But I don’t want to hide. And that’s why I wanted to be part of the r29 shoot, so that people were confronted with the image of someone with self inflicted scarring, scarring that they did to themselves, rather than things that nature gave them (like freckles, or psoriasis etc), or accidental scarring. That’s the real difference.

I gave myself these scars.

And I think that’s why people find it harder to accept self-harm scars, and why I will still unconsciously cover up around children I don’t know or if I’m in a more formal situation. I definitely still have an up and down relationship with my scarring, but for the most part now I just forget about it. I forget the scars are there, until someone brings me back down to earth and reminds me.

Photo by Kate Anglestein

Photo by Kate Anglestein

Speaking out loud about the scarring, and my mental health journey, and how I feel about my scarring for the first time was harder than I thought it would be. I’m comfortable writing about it now, and I often write about some really tough stuff. But it’s one thing silently tapping away on a keyboard when it’s just me and the laptop screen, and another one entirely to say the words out loud to another human.

I am so glad I did it though. I want to speak out more, and I want to talk about my experiences in a frank and honest way that I don’t always see, because I so desperately needed to see people doing that when I was younger. Everything I do I do for tiny, scared, 15 year old Cordelia who needed to know that she wasn’t alone, and that she would be okay, even if life would continue being a hard rollercoaster.

I am so grateful to Refinery29 for doing their Skin Deep week and talking to real women about their skin and how they feel about it. It’s an incredible piece, and an incredible photoshoot, and the women who took part are incredible. It’s one of the most empowering things I’ve done so far, and I desperately want to continue this work and elevate it even higher.

Love, Cordelia.

You can find the Refinery29 piece here (My story is the one under the name ‘Lottie’): 10 Women Let Us Photograph Their Skin (Very) Close Up