Self-Injury Videos Go Viral: A Disability Studies Perspective



From WebMD Health News

By Kelli Miller Stacy

Feb. 21, 2011 — Self-injury videos that show young people intentionally harming their bodies is an alarming new trend that’s being fueled by the popular video-sharing web site YouTube, researchers report in the March issue of Pediatrics.

Self-injury, also called self-mutilation or self-harm, is when a person deliberately hurts himself or herself through acts such as cutting, stabbing, or burning.  Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) refers to the deliberate, immediate destruction of body tissue for purposes unrelated to tattooing or piercing and which is not intended to cause death.

NSSI is a worrisome and frequently occurring act that may be a sign of sadness, loneliness, despair, low self-esteem, or the feeling of being unloved. About 14% to 24% of adolescents and young adults have engaged in some type of self-harm.


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Make no mistake: the impulse to self-injure is a serious disability. But researchers have it wrong when they argue that NSSI is unrelated to tattooing. The creation of self-injury videos is a narrative act. It is a graphic representation of what has always been in teen diaries, namely the proof of despair. In our age the body has become a tabula rasa—it is the site where young people write their notes of darkness. And in a post-literary era filming the body in pain is the diary. Failing to recognize this is tantamount to not understanding the rearrangement of the writer-actor-audience relationship that has happened in our time.

Once again the researchers have failed to understand the patients. Blaming the social media or YouTube in this instance is like blaming the book binder for what’s in the book.



0 thoughts on “Self-Injury Videos Go Viral: A Disability Studies Perspective

  1. Hi Caitriona,
    Wow, your writing about your tattoos is truly beautiful, and your tattoos sound as if they must be also. The two friends that I mentioned, he has two tattoos on either arm (that I can see), one is a toxic waste symbol, and the other is a barcode. His amour has beautiful tattoos, very colorful and flowing — she hates L.A., so I see her rarely, and can’t really remember the tattoos in detail. I got a small tattoo of my astrological birthsign when I was a teenager between my thumb and forefinger. I was celebrating the mysterious cessation of a needle phobia that I’d had since I was 5 years old — but I still got pretty woozy when it was done. And the shot phobia returned in full-force in my early 20s when I swore off marijuana. I ended up removing the tattoo when I was 30 and out in the job market trying to look as “status quo” as possible.


  2. As a person with nine different tattoos, I think I’m qualified to contribute some information about the tattooing process itself and also about why people get tattoos. Personally, I don’t think that one can have an educated opinion about what it really means to have a tattoo, until one has at least one. That’s just my opinion, take it with a grain of salt, preferably around a large margarita. First, let me say that tattooing has nothing to do with self-mutilation, because a tattoo is not a mutilation. Tattooing does no harm to the body and is nearly painless. A sunburn does more harm, causes more pain, and increases the risk of skin cancer, which tattooing does not do. Getting a tattoo is no more painful than writing on your hand with a ballpoint pen. It is much less painful than a sunburn, heals in less than a week, and leaves one with a beautiful expression of one’s inner self. I look on all of my tattoos much as one would look on paintings in a museum- they are beautiful, expressive works of art typical of the Post-Impressionist Surrealist movement which express the artist’s deepest, innermost feelings and desires. The only difference is that I happen to be the artist in question, these are my personal works of art, they express my deepest and most true sense of self, and I happen to wear them instead of putting them on a wall. On another note, I think that my tattoos represent the best parts of myself- they are symbols of hope, depictions of dreams. I have a tattoo on my right arm of one of my favorite guitars, a rare Lake Placid Blue Stratocaster entwined with wild roses, with a butterfly perched on the headstock. The wild roses represent myself and the blossoming of my creative abilities as a guitarist. The butterfly signifies the power of transformation from the baseness of a mundane caterpillar to the ethereal spirituality of a beautiful butterfly. I feel a connection to my music on a deeply spiritual level, which is why there’s a butterfly on the instrument that has taken possesion of my soul, the guitar. All of my tattoos have similarly personal meanings. I have a tattoo of a phoenix on my shoulder to remind me of my ability to rise from the ashes of violence, abuse, & neglect to achieve great things. I can think of few other such strong symbols of hope & perseverance than a tattoo. Any time that I think I can’t reach my goal of being a musician, & I’m ready to give up, I look down at my tattoos and realize that I can do or be anything that I want. I look at my phoenix and realize that no matter how bad things seem right now, like the phoenix, I, too, can rise from the ashes and achieve my most desired goals. In this way, my tattoos not only serve to beautify my body, but they strengthen my spirit and nourish my soul. My tattoos will never leave me- they will support me forever.


  3. Like you, SK, I suspect that tattooing, piercing and self-injurious behaviors are associated. Pain is a powerful stimulant — far more effective than caffeine, nicotine and other substances. You and I grew up in the 60s “druggie” generation. Controlled substances seem to be our generation’s stimulant of choice. Subsequent generations have found other ways of getting high. I have two friends who earned PhDs and are incredibly effective, dynamic individuals. Both have a remarkable array of various tattoos and piercings that each has accumulated throughout their studies and careers. Another friend who achieved mainstream employment, married and raised a family despite a vision impairment that made visual reading possible, yet excruciatingly painful for even short periods of time. He did very well for many years using the sugar-free caffeinated beverage “Tab” as his main source of pep. In middle age, though, she became transgender, experienced uncontrollable suicidal impulses, urges to cut herself and was diagnosed with major depression. She continues to be fundamentally the same person of unwavering optimism, intelligence and sensitivity that she has always been, but seems to struggle with the accumulative side-effects of a life lived to the max. People with autism spectrum behaviors can also experience self-injurious behaviors. Here’s a link to an article that discusses this:


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