Sophie Rutkowski Is Fighting Back At Instagram For Censoring Her Scars

September 11, 2019

“My scars do not make me ugly or weak, but are something that I can learn and grow from.”

“This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing.” 

When you visit Sophie Rutkowski’s Instagram page, the majority of her pictures are blurred with the above warning plastered across it.

These photos – often just photos of Sophie existing in her everyday life – are being censored by Instagram because they feature her self-harm scars.

There are few people in this world as brave as Sophie, who at just 18-years-old, is demanding cultural change around the way we deal with mental illness – and she won’t take no for an answer.

Like so many, she grew up surrounded by an institutionalized stigma about the way we speak about mental health.

Sophie first self-harmed when she was 13-years-old and is now trying to prove to the world that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your scars. She’s a mental health advocate on social media well known for painting delicate pictures over her scars, taking the pain and inspiring others to grow from it, as she is well aware of how negative stigma impacts on the ability of people to get the help they deserve.

“I have always had a difficult time opening up about my mental health and self-harm. I’ve been faced with a variety of responses. Some people have been very loving and supportive while others have been cruel and judgemental.”

Unfortunately, Instagram is not onboard with her advocacy. The social platform regularly censors her body and flags her posts as ‘violent’ and ‘graphic’, forcing her to photoshop her skin to stop her photos from being reported.

The implications of this are dangerous.

Censoring women for showing their scars implies that they are ‘less than’ because of what they’ve been through, when the opposite is true.

We should be celebrating women like Sophie for overcoming adversity. We need to openly support survivors of mental illness and come at them with understanding rather than fear and judgment.

The fact that Sophie has to photoshop her skin before Instagram will let her post a selfie is disgraceful and it’s not something she will take lying down.

“Several of my posts were later deleted for ‘promoting self-destructive and suicidal behaviors’. When I tried reposting them, they were repeatedly taken down. I was eventually left with no option but to edit my scars off in order to keep my posts up.”

“I think most rational people can see that there is a very distinct difference between posts that intentionally promote self-destructive behaviors and posts of ordinary people who are simply trying to live their lives and happen to have self-harm scars. The fact that Instagram can’t tell the difference is repulsive.”

It’s concerning that platforms like Instagram continue to encourage women to cover up what are deemed as imperfections to protect viewers from ‘sensitive’ content. As a society, we are so afraid of mental illness that when we see physical signs we try to ignore them. It’s easy to ignore the often uncomfortable symptoms of mental illness, like self-harm, but in the long run this does more damage than we realize.

Sophie stands as an empowered advocate but her mental health journey has been a tumultuous one. After experiencing a manipulative friendship, her anxiety and depression began to spiral.

“I became extremely irritable and small arguments I had with my parents would turn into huge fights that were so loud that our neighbors from down the street would come knocking on our front door to see if everything was alright.”

“I was told on a daily basis by the people I loved that there was a reason why nobody cared about me. I was convinced that this reason was because of who I was as a person. It seemed plausible; I was the one who had lost all of my friends. I was the one whose family didn’t even want to be around me. I was the problem.”

“It was after one of these fights that I began cutting myself. I remember slamming my bedroom door and curling up in a ball on my floor. Tears ran down my cheeks as I heard my mom repeatedly say that she wanted me out of the house. She was tired of dealing with me and wanted me gone. I felt like a complete burden. I felt like I had no place in this world. Self-harming was a release for me. It relieved me from all the pain that had been building up inside of me and it temporarily calmed me for the time being. ”

It took hitting rock bottom for Sophie to get the help that she needed.

“After smashing a hole through a glass window with my bare fist, my parents decided to take me to therapy. We had been fighting for months. I felt broken, empty, and suicidal. My parents knew that I needed more help than they could give.”

As she started the recovery process, Sophie notes that she didn’t hate her scars until society taught her that she should.

“I never really hated my scars until I began wearing short sleeves in public. I would be stared and pointed at wherever I went. At school, my peers would mock me and mutter that it was attention-seeking and excessive. I was told that I looked like I had been sent through a paper shredder and that my skin looked like tree bark. My school social worker told me that if all this bothered me, I should just cover up, indicating that if I didn’t, I was begging for attention.”

“It was invalidating and humiliating. As much as I knew none of this was true, it still hurt. I cared too much about what others had to say about me.”

Learning to ignore what other people think of you is no easy feat and Sophie has had to overcome more backlash than most.

“It’s taken me a long time to rebuild my confidence. I am learning to love and accept myself as I am. Some days are more difficult than others but I’m in a much better place than I used to. I no longer feel a rush of anxiety every time I leave the house with my scars showing.”

“I have learned that judgments about me are only opinions. They do not show who I am and are only a reflection of the person saying them. I have come to terms with the fact that I will always be faced with judgment, but I do not have to listen to it. I am going to accept myself even when others do not because at the end of the day that is what matters most.”

Despite their censorship policy, Sophie uses her Instagram as a platform to encourage other people to seek help and speak honestly about mental illness. She paints delicate designs over her scars to prove that they are symbols of strength. They show what you’ve been through and you should never have to cover up your past to make other people comfortable.

“I started painting over my scars a few years ago. I found it therapeutic. It allowed me to turn a painful part of my life into a beautiful work of art. It helps me see that my scars do not make me ugly or weak but are something that I can learn and grow from. It helps me accept myself and feel more confident in my own skin.”

“Many people already feel ashamed about their scars and it’s absolutely heartbreaking to know that Instagram’s censorship is leading people to feel even more uncomfortable in their own skin.”

“I don’t think it makes anyone feel particularly confident about themselves when their posts are covered up, warning others that their bodies are “offensive or disturbing”. The only offensive and disturbing thing about it is that their posts are being covered up in the first place.”

Instagram may censor her scars but they won’t stop her from proving that there is a strength in loving your body and growing from adversity. Sophie is the embodiment of resilience and reminds us all that we are more than what we’ve been through.

When we censor scars and self-harm, we censor life-saving conversations about mental health. Sophie is doing all she can to make a safe space to raise awareness and tackle social stigma. She takes pain and paints over it, demonstrating that there is a beauty in healing both your skin and your soul.

Sophie’s Instagram platform acts as a beacon of hope for mental illness survivors everywhere as she empowers people to love themselves and get the help they deserve.

“Most importantly, never be afraid to reach out for help. Even if it doesn’t feel like it al the time, there are so many people out there that love and care about you and want to help. Whether it’s a close friend or family member, a counselor, or a hotline, talk to someone. Opening up about your mental health is crucial to getting the help and care that you need.”

Sophie is a talented artist studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. You can view her beautiful works and support her as she advocates for mental health awareness on her Instagram. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, you can reach out to these services: 

United States: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Call 1-800-273-8255)

Australia: Lifeline Australia (Call 13 11 14) 

UK: Samaritans (Call 116 123)

Featured image via instagram.com. 

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Join the discussion: Do you think Instagram should be censoring scars? 

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