Trigger warning: This story contains images of self-harm scars.
At first glance, it looks like any other campaign image from the highly-inclusive label Lonely. The model, Dani Ran, stands in a delicate white cotton bra and underwear set, with her peach hair blowing in the wind. But then at her legs, above the knees, you notice something you don't often see in fashion — let alone lingerie — campaigns: scars.
Not scars as a result of surgery, pregnancy, or accident — as the fashion industry is becoming more and more comfortable with showing — but self-harm scars. After Lonely posted the image to Instagram earlier this week with a caption that simply read "comfort," there was a prompt onslaught of comments from people eager to share their own opinions — and they weren't all positive.
Some felt the image was triggering and inappropriate. "It can be very difficult for current or ex-self-harmers to see images of cuts, injuries, or wounds as it can cause or ‘trigger’ an urge for them to harm themselves," one commenter wrote. "For this reason, it would be helpful to include a trigger warning."
"We think it is important to represent women as they are," Helene Morris, one of the founders of Lonely, said in a statement to Refinery29. "We don’t Photoshop and we don’t shy away from sometimes uncomfortable conversations."
But amidst calls for a trigger warning and an apology from Lonely directly, others looked at the image and felt it represented hope — and a much-needed moment of representation for those who have struggled with self harm and mental illness. As one commenter wrote, "I have struggled with my scars for a few years now and seeing this photo made me feel like, even with my scars, I can still be effortless and natural and beautiful."
Ran soon released a statement of her own in the comments section of Lonely's post, noting that she wasn't trying to glamorize self-harm or trigger anyone.
"This is me, my scars are my story," Ran wrote. "I understand the trigger warning because if I was in crisis and saw these scars, I’d be severely triggered, but I just want anyone struggling to look at this image and remember, if you have scars, it’s okay to accept them as part of who you are. I don’t want to glamorize self-harm by being open and non-censored with it, but instead, tell victims not to be ashamed of their scars."
Cora Harrington, who runs the blog the Lingerie Addict, had similar feelings when she decided to stop editing out her own self-harm scars years ago. The visible scars weren't just for herself, but for the many self-harm survivors out there too.
I have self-harm scars & part of why I don’t shop them out is b/c I remember feeling so embarrassed and ashamed and full of self-loathing and like no one would ever want to look at my body again...and I want to show other self-harm survivors that’s not true. You can be ok after.— Cora Harrington (@lingerie_addict) July 11, 2018
"I share them now because I think it's important for fellow self-harm survivors to see that there is life and hope and happiness after self-harm," Harrington says. "When I was actively self-harming more than a decade ago, I felt a deep sense of shame and self-loathing even on top of the distress that led me to self-harm in the first place. I don't hide them because I want other people to know that your low moments, the times when you're at your most vulnerable, don't have to define your entire life."
Being honest about self-harm — and even showing the results of it — is one of the first steps in removing the shame and stigma surrounding it, according to Rebecca Kronman, a clinical social worker based in Brooklyn who has clients who have struggled with it.
However, Kronman does note that a little more context to the image might have helped people see its true purpose. "It doesn’t seem like they’re making a statement, but it’s implicit," Kronman says. "So it’s open to interpretation, which gets a little tricky because there’s no context to say that it’s not being glorified. It may be helpful to have this context of, 'Hey, this is who this person is and what she’s dealing with, and we chose this for this reason.'"
Noting that every person's experience with self-harm is unique, she adds, "I do think there is some value in de-stigmatizing an image of somebody who has self-harmed. When you put an image like this out there, there can be the beginning of a conversation about this and the creation of a community full of helpful, supportive people. That alone could make this image worth being out there."
If you are thinking about suicide or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.