Body Integrity Identity Disorder: An Amputee’s Perspective

A reaction and analysis to the story of Jewel Shuping, an able-bodied woman in North Carolina who, with the help of her psychiatrist, poured drain cleaner in her eyes to achieve her life-long dream of being blind.

I try to keep a very open mind about these things. In the year 2015, there are things about the brain we still have yet to even begin to understand. Psychiatry is a relatively new study, in the grand scheme of things, and many types of mental disability and psychological condition are still largely a mystery to scientists and doctors.

2CF660B900000578-3256029-image-a-10_1443692650412That being said, when I stumbled across this story about a woman from North Carolina who had intentionally blinded herself due to a condition known as BIID, or Body Integrity Identity Disorder, my initial reaction was anger.

The human body is such a fragile thing. There are so many things that can go wrong, whether it’s during the initial process of cell division in the womb, or later on in a fully grown adult who has an accident, or develops some disease that contributes a necessary amputation, causes blindness/deafness, etc. There are just so many things that can happen either during the formative process before birth, DURING birth, or throughout the course of life, that can cause health problems, loss of function, or an untimely death. The idea of an able-bodied person just deciding that they no longer want that perfectly functioning hand, and would feel much better if it were to be cut off and thrown away, is instinctively offensive to someone like me.

And while the comparison to similar disorders like anorexia nervosa seems obvious (and is in fact backed up by psychologists, something I learned from reading this very thorough academic paper on the subject), and while its identification as a mental disorder should encourage us toward acceptance and understanding of such an action… here I am. Mad about it.

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t anger me. It doesn’t affect my life. What’s it got to do with me? This woman knew what she wanted and she went out and got it. Now she’s happier than ever. Good for her, I guess? Who am I to judge?

I’m really curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this. What do you guys think?


5 thoughts on “Body Integrity Identity Disorder: An Amputee’s Perspective

  1. My initial reaction was also anger. Anger at the member of the medical community who assisted her in following through with her plan. Anger at a woman who took her sight for granted. I am blind in one eye and I am nearsighted in the other. It’s not something that comes up in conversation, so I rarely talk about it. But even though I am proud of my body and the amazing things it does all the time, there is a part of me that will always be curious to know what it is like to see out of both eyes.

    No, her actions don’t affect me directly. But the fetishization of visual impairment is a little too close for me.

    • Hi Alexis, thank you so much for your comment. This last line really hit me, and I think it’s so true: “But the fetishization of visual impairment is a little too close for me.”

      Agree agree agree. Also, I just realized how much this reminds me of the Rachel Dolezal story. How is this any less of a gross appropriation? The fact that she is studying to become a teacher for schools of the blind and talks about wanting to “help other blind people” is eerily similar to Dolezal’s involvement in the NAACP and subsequent accusations of being a victim of racism due to her fake/appropriated Blackness. And she (Shuping) initially lied about it and claimed it was an accident.

      I guess the only difference really is the permanence with which she has embraced her appropriation? Dolezal can lay off the bronzer for a while and take out her dreads, but Shuping can’t undo her blindness.

      Hm, I’m very conflicted about this story. I just can’t give her a pass on this.

      Thanks again for your comments, Alexis!

      ❤ Laura

  2. Initial response: I can’t even imagine how much that must have hurt. That’s not going, “Hey, I think obscuring one of my primary senses would be interesting and make me feel good – maybe I’ll wear a blindfold!” It’s going, “Welp, drain cleaner to the eyes is prooobably agonizing, but it has to be better than how I’ve felt all these years!” With no other option, either “treatment for disorder”-wise or “more reversible/humane blindness”-wise, I kinda have to agree with your statement that she knew what she wanted and she went out and got it. It’s interesting to compare this to some other arguably-voluntary forms of self-mutilation: how about extreme sports enthusiasts that push their limits until they end up maimed? Or the 96% of NFL players who end up with chronic traumatic encephalopathy? Is her choice to sacrifice the functioning of her body for happiness any different? That’s an honest question – I’d love to hear your take on it.

    • Hm, I see your point but I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. The end goal of NFL players is not to wind up in chronic pain or suffer injury — it’s just an unavoidable part of what they do. They do it because they love to play the game (and the lucrative career doesn’t hurt either). They’re not setting out to intentionally hurt themselves.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  3. Setting aside for a moment the horrific way in which she did it (not just the pain, but the permanency), I have to confess that I’ve wondered more than once what it would be like to occupy a very different body from the one that I have, with very different capabilities. I would assume that most people who are into science fiction and fantasy have, to some extent, since things such as shapechanging and body switching are pretty common in SFF. And, of course, a big part of that is the Disability Superpower trope–you’re not just blind, but your other senses get sharper; you lose a hand, but get modular attachments (and never mind the cost or practicality).

    But wondering what it would be like and feeling that I was somehow meant not to have a left hand or the use of my eyes are two vastly different things, and in fact, I know what it’s like to have a relatively minor disability: I’m deaf in one ear, the result of mumps at a very young age (and you can imagine what I think of antivaxxers as a result); it can be an inconvenience to varying degrees (not really being able to hear anywhere with a lot of background noise, especially crowded bars or parties; needing to get special earphones that have both channels in one side), without any sort of real compensation for it, except for being able to get to sleep quickly by sleeping on the side of my “good” ear. There is a prosthetic of sorts for it, called a bone-anchored hearing aid, but they’re very expensive (and not covered by insurance because they’re considered elective) and require the implantation of a titanium post in the back of the skull. That’s sort of neat, in a kind of Borg-y way, but nothing that I’d want to blow the price of a nice car on. There are a ton of body mods that are way cheaper and, while not correcting my disability, don’t entail acquiring a new one.

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