To Cover or Not to Cover Self-Harm Scars?

Every morning when I get dressed (especially in the summer), I have a battle in my head, pondering this dilemma:

“People will judge me and look at me differently.”

“One of the reasons I self-harmed was to have scars.”

“I don’t want to be embarrassed by my scars.”

“What if I get uncomfortable stares and questions?”

“I don’t want to cover my arms forever.”

“I want to be proud of how far I’ve come.”

“Why don’t I wait for them to fade more?”

“Will they ever be faded the ‘perfect’ amount?”

These are just some of the thoughts bouncing back and forth inside my head when I’m choosing what to wear. I usually end up wearing long sleeves, even in summer, because I’d rather avoid the knowing stares and uncomfortable remarks from family, friends, and strangers alike. I’d rather hide inside of my long-sleeved shirt and get overheated in summer than show my scars and embrace myself how I am.

Self-Harm Stigma

It is important before I continue to point out that I am only talking about scars. Fresh open wounds, in my opinion, should always be covered both for sanitary reasons and also to not trigger anyone. But should I force myself into further isolation by covering them for eternity? Self-harm, in my opinion, is majorly stigmatized, way more-so than depression, which it could be a symptom of. According to the American Psychological Association (as of 2015), 15% of college students have engaged in non-suicidal self-injury at least once, as well as 17% of adolescents. This is a huge portion of society, yet it is still extremely stigmatized.

A Personal Story Demonstrating The Stigma

About a year ago, I went to the ER for a physical issue. After I got medically cleared in the ER, they told me I could not leave and that I was going to be escorted downstairs. After enough inquiring about where I was headed, the doctors hesitantly told me that I was being taken to the psychiatric ER. They told me that they wouldn’t release me from the hospital unless I went. I was confused—I hadn’t said anything about my mental state or indicated in any way that I was a danger to myself or others (which I wasn’t).

The psychiatrist who spoke with me saw no problem and was also confused as to why they had forced me to come. I later found out that the doctor that was treating me in the medical ER saw some of my old, healed self-harm scars. She got scared and sent me to the psychiatric ER because she didn’t know what to say or do. This was a medical professional who is supposed to be educated on this matter—if she wasn’t, then who can blame the general public for their response?

Because of this stigma, I am constantly aware of my sleeve length when in public. The decision goes through my mind every time I get dressed.

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2 Comments on “To Cover or Not to Cover Self-Harm Scars?

  1. Hi Sarah, Kudos to you for being brave and sharing what you did. I can relate to the struggle of clothing decisions with scars. It has been a journey for me. I am happy and grateful to share that for the most part I have become more comfortable with not covering up. This has been a big relief for me- one less thing to stress about. That’s not to say that I never consider it when getting dressed but it doesn’t occupy nearly as much space as it once did. This was something that was important for me. Of course everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. With love, Simmy

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