Tumblr, Self-Harm, and Me

This is a brief warning for people who come here for the funny jokes about Christian Grey being a wanker or retrospectives on Frasier (coming soon, folks!): this will not be particularly funny and may well be triggering for those who’ve self-harmed in the past.

I’ve recently discovered tumblr, because I was forced to sign up by an employer. “Oh well,” thunk I, “nothing wrong with exploring a new kind of social media, what with this being the digital age and all”. While I was browsing the internet for interesting topics to look up on the site, I came across a number of articles discussing the banning of pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia, and pro-self-harm blogs (which is what I’ll be focusing on). A statement released by the website said this on the matter:
“Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or injure themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seeking counseling or treatment, or joining together in supportive conversation with those suffering or recovering from depression or other conditions”.

That all seems pretty sensible. But, me being me, I had to go and investigate exactly what kind of content this had left on those kinds of communities; after all, once something gathers a following on the internet, it’s pretty hard to ever sponge it clean entirely (see: 4chan).

I should point out at this juncture that this topic was of particular interest to me because I have suffered from depression and self-harmed on a semi-regular basis for around two years (I tried to make that as nonchalant as possible, but this is the first time I’ve admitted it to a wide audience and a tiny part of me is fist-bumping itself and going “WAY TO BREAK ‘EM BOUNDARIES, MACGREGOR”). Most of my scars have faded but I’m still extremely self-conscious about them, and self-harm is my The Big Bad, like booze for alcoholics or heroin for junkies. You may judge me off that statement however you want, and you’re welcome to, but I’d appreciate it if you kept any needlessly nasty comments to yourself. A morbid curiosity overwhelmed me and I had to take a closer look- what were these websites promoting that was so hypnotic to the tumblr community?

I investigated. And it’s pretty safe to say that many of the tumblr pages I came across that discussed self-harm continue to glorify it. Extremely graphic pictures of scars and cuts-some still bleeding, some clearly suicide attempts, some so bad that other users have urged the poster to visit the hospital-prompt comments complimenting their beauty. Some anonymous users despair because their scars are not as deep as the ones they see depicted on the site, and they believe this means they don’t qualify as “real” self-harmers. Gifs and pictures from movies glorify beautiful people slicing themselves to ribbons without tackling anything other than the superficial fact they are self-harming. Other posts advise on how to find razors and sharp objects in everyday items. One particularly hideous gif-and I’m sure it’s not the only one- shows someone actually cutting their arm open with a razor.

I can tell you this with some security because I am in recovery: if I’d found a community that had glorified and encouraged this habit back when I’d first started, I dread to think how far I would have gone to fit in. Self-harm is confusing and frightening and addictive enough without wondering if your scars are deep enough or pretty enough or numerous enough. And recovery is a long and often lonely process, so it’s not out of the realms of belief that someone might look for some sincere support on the web when nothing else is available and come across sites like these. This shit is utterly, utterly horrible, extremely disturbing, and offering very little in the way of the “supportive conversations” tumblr had imagined. Words cannot describe how angry and sick this made me, and you’ll find the same kind of blogs kicking around for eating disorders too-several particularly grim forays include a mixture of self-harm and pro-eating disorder material.

And let’s step back from my rage and take a look at the facts. Around 30% of tumblr’s visitors are under 25, so young people account for just under a third of their entire audience. Consider this: rates of depression in young people in Britain have risen 70% in the last 25 years, and it’s now estimated that around 1 in 10 young people all over the world will take part in some form of self-injurious behavior (SIB). Do you see what I’m getting at here? That tumblr should be doing a far better fucking job at protecting the particularly vulnerable third of it’s audience from distressing or potentially triggering imagery and communities? Seems pretty straightforward to me. But then I’m a nutter cutter: what would I know?

As a sign-off, I’d like to recommend anyone else who self-harms or is in recovery (I see it like alcoholism: you never really stop having the propensity to slip back into it, but you do have long periods of time-lifetimes, even-where you don’t) the following websites, which I’ve found really useful in the past.

http://www.7cupsoftea.com/ Especially this one.