A few weeks ago when I was out walking, I noticed a sign in the window of one of the local tattoo shops. "Yes, it hurts!" the sign declared. The sign made me recall a question that frequently occurs when talking about self-injury. Are tattoos and piercings really just forms of self-injury? After all, with both of these acts the person is consenting to something that will injure and disfigure the body (at least temporarily). It might make sense that tattoos and piercings are just different methods of self-injury.
I've previously stated that self-injury is an act that inflicts harm to one's self, by one's self, not for the purpose of suicide. In the cases of tattooing and piercing the harm is definitely done to oneself (as opposed to another). If I want a tattoo, the ink is going on me rather than on a friend of mine. Getting pierced and/or tattooed is a lousy and ineffective way to try to kill your self, so the idea that either of these behaviors would be done as a suicide attempt makes no sense. But most people don't tattoo or pierce themselves, instead they enlist the assistance of a professional. Occasionally someone may tattoo themselves, particularly in settings such as detention facilities, inpatient programs and other residential environments. Self-piercing is a bit more common as it is fairly easy to accomplish. So, one factor seeming to separate "true" self-injury from tattoos and piercings is the idea that self-injury is performed by one's own hand.