Avoiding Crisis

shaving your head IS NOT self-mutilation

with 6 comments

Psychiatrist Dr. Carole Leiberman and and psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall have really annoyed me.  So has any reporter, or daytime talk show host,  who equates Britney’s head shaving incident with self mutilation. 

Here’s the thing, shaving one’s head has nothing to do with self-mutilation.  While it may be self-destructive, especially when you’re whole life is about your image, it’s not mutilation.  

By definition, self-mutilation involves the destruction of one’s own body tissue.  So unless Britney pulled her hair out of her head resulting in her bald state — which, sadly enough, some people do; it’s called Trichotillomania —  she has not mutilated herself.  Her choice to be bald, while yes, is self inflicted, it is not a bodily injury.      

Why is this bothering me so?  What exactly is it that has caused my blood to boil?   I’ll give you a hint – it has nothing at all to do with Britney Spears.  It has everything to do with the repetitive use of the term “self mutilation” to describe what is really self-injurious behavior (SIB), the later term being that which doctors and reporters shouldhave used when speculating about Ms. Spears recent actions. (Regardless of how it has been or should have been characterized, I still don’t see the act of shaving one’s head with a pair of clippers as SIB.) 

Like many self injurers, I find the use of the term self mutilation as inaccurate and offensive.  With a general lack of understanding and awareness about SIB, a term such as mutilation conjures up images cut off limbs or genitals.  SIB is not about disfigurement, it’s about feeling and coping.    

I never cut myself with the intention of causing life long scars.  I never scratched the skin off of my legs thinking I’d leave permanent marks.  I cut so that I could feel and I cut to stop feeling.  I cut to get through the day without panic. I cut to feel pain; to remind myself that I was alive.  I never cut to die.  I  cut when I was 9 years old, when I was 14 years old, when I was in my 20s.  I cut my arms, my legs, my abdomen.  I covered up the marks so no one would know.  I used broken mirrors, scissors, the metal piece on a pen cap, paper clips, safety pins. I used my own nails.  I’ve banged my head against walls. I didn’t do it for attention.  It wasn’t a cry for help.  It was how I lived, how I survived.

Today, 7 years removed from the worst of it, I do have one noticable scar. It serves as a reminder each day of how far things got and how bad it could be.  The rest of the scars you cannot see unless I point them out to you.  I know they are there and I hope they never fade.

Britney’s hair will grow back. 


March 1st is Self Injury Awareness Day. 



Written by nicolemarie

February 21, 2007 at 12:19 am

6 Responses

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  1. Hi Nicole

    You write beautifully, and present such fresh perspectives on issues on the verge of becoming stale.

    I’m gonna be a regular reader here.


    March 3, 2007 at 11:52 pm

  2. Nicole,

    you do write beautifully

    I believe that this is just another occurance of what generally happens when something becomes a ‘fad diagnosis’. SIB has just recently become something that the public is actually trying to understand. Just like when ADHD was the ‘fad diagnosis’ people are quick to blame any odd behavior on this new and interesting affliction…even if it has been studied and practiced for years before they had even heard of it

    It is unfortunate that we know as much as we do about SIB, especially because it’s that much more difficult to hear the uneducated talk about it like they know what they’re saying. But i wouldn’t give up that knowledge for anything, as frustrating as it may be at times 🙂


    April 14, 2007 at 11:39 am

  3. This is an interesting perspective on this issue, thanks Nicole. It was really annoying me too, how the press referred to Britney’s “self mutilation”.

    Looking at it from a slightly different point of view, it especially annoyed me that people assumed that the actual act of a woman shaving her crowning glory was a sign of mental illness – implying that why else would anyone do that to themselves?!

    Part of me thinks, come on, it is only HAIR! But it also reminded me of when I cut my hair really really short when I was younger (not quite shaved, but not far from it). The experience really brought it home that actually, it may just be hair but there’s a lot more to it than I had thought.

    I did it on an impulse, simply because I was bored and wanted to try something completely different. I was still pretty conventional, whatever that means, in my dress and behaviour, etc., so it wasn’t part of a greater change of look for me. But two things resulted from that that I never expected, and that even today, several years on, still surprise me.

    Firstly, other people’s reaction to my new hair cut. Friends thought I must have reacted badly to some kind of trauma they didn’t yet know about (I still don’t know what that trauma was supposed to be!), colleagues and classmates thought I was a bit strange (“you cut your HAIR?? But why??!! It was so beautiful long…!”). My family thought I was having a belated teenage rebellion, the kind where one tries to make oneself look as unattractive as possible. But I thought I looked fab!
    Secondly, I never anticipated how different I would feel with very short hair. I loved the freedom of it. I felt strong and felt that new people (i.e. people who didn’t know me with long hair) treated me differently and had different expectations of me, which I found incredibly empowering. So although I had always viewed it as “just” hair, and have never been sentimental about it, it ended up having a big impact on my life.

    In the end I grew it out because I was sick of having to spend so much cash on keeping it short, but it’s an experience I’ve stored away in my mind for the future. Who knows, it may be how I deal with reaching 30 (I’m also on a countdown 🙂 ) Whenever I decide to drastically change my hair style again, it certainly won’t be an act of desperation, a sign of me struggling to cope, a cry for help or anything like that. It will be a celebration of strength 🙂


    April 16, 2007 at 9:35 am

  4. sarah – I completely agree with you and understand exactly what you are saying. I’ve made comments on my own hair issues on this blog as well and you can find them here: https://journeytothirty.wordpress.com/2007/02/17/comments-on-my-hair-and-britneys-too/


    April 18, 2007 at 9:50 am

  5. I’m doing research on this because I just had a trauma that ended in shaving my head, which seems like only hair, but to me it seems like “harmless” self harm, there’s some element in it that resembles in a very small way the impulse that drives people to real self harm. I’m 53 and since this series of traumas began in my family (about 7 years ago) I have thought about cutting myself at times. I think I may be atypical because of my age, but I don’t know. I do know that I felt relief after I had shaved my head. It was something I could do, an expression of frustration. Perhaps I don’t know what to call it, but it certainly came out of that trauma.


    March 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm

  6. As someone who frequently shaves his head completely in times of stress, my doctor and I completely disagree with you. Just because it doesn’t draw blood doesn’t mean it’s harmless.


    December 24, 2011 at 6:06 am

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