Crossings: Swarthmore Undergraduate Feminist Research Journal


Skin picking, otherwise known as dermatillomania, is considered to be a medical disorder by the DSM-5. However, the embodied experiences of skin picking in myself and my mother do not align with the neat definitions offered by psychiatry. Through autoethnographic material and an ethnographic interview with my mother, I argue that skin picking is a bodily technique that is pathologized through stigma. In particular, I suggest that skin picking reveals the body as a polyvalent entity, in which the same features and practices take on different meanings in different bodies. This frames the discrepancies between mine, and my mother's, experiences. This ethnography seeks to disrupt the dichotomy between body and mind perpetuated in psychiatry and in medicine as a whole, and attempts to make sense of the embodied experience of mental illness. Further, it seeks to challenge concepts of health and illness as states of being which afflict the bounded individual: rather they are mediated through socialities and ideologies, of which the body is at the center.