Dr. Favazza defines self-mutilation as the deliberate destruction or alteration of one’s body tissue without conscious suicidal intent. He notes that the presence of a self-mutilator, or those that indulge in ‘body play’ often threaten the “sense of mental and physical integrity of those around him or her.” For most of us, the motivation behind these practices becomes key in explaining the basis for this behavior. It is important to note culturally sanctioned rituals in which the destruction of bodily tissue or modification are key elements. According to Musafar, in order to truly understand, we must adjust our mindset. We must “deliberately attempt to rise above the cultural biases by which we have been observing and describing this behavior.”
For some, there is a religious inclination to deny any sort of body modification. One of the reasons my mom was against me getting my first tattoo was because she claimed that God did not intend for us to permanently alter our skin. A more empirical argument against self-mutilation is based on biological consequences—big holes and open wounds usually open the body up for serious infection. Nevertheless, it is the intent behind the behavior that prompt many of us to be wary of these practices. Body play as a form of art are, to an extent, excused, while those that suffer from a medical condition (i.e. depression) and indulge in self-harm as a way to treat themselves become a concern.
As someone who is interested in the medical field and sciences, I couldn’t make sense as to why someone would undergo such drastic, medically unnecessary, alterations or procedures. My research focus involves the study of the brain and I unconsciously tend to attribute behavior to functional and molecular processes. However, I’ve quickly learned that things are not always that simple. Things become clearer when we consider the social force and implications. Our behavior lies on a spectrum, but in a society like ours, where a hierarchy exists, those in positions of power have the privilege of establishing the norm. There is overwhelming stigma against those who engage in body play. There used to be more severe negative reactions against tattoos and mild facial piercings, but now they’re becoming very popular. A society is never static. I would not be surprised if body play becomes more accepted as an art sometime in the future.