Supermarket refused to sell alcohol to woman with self-harm scars

Mar 17, 2016 at 9:34 a.m. ET

When 21-year-old Becci Wain went to buy a bottle of champagne from Tesco she was refused. Despite showing her ID, the checkout staff member told Becci that she didn't want to serve her because of her visible self-harm scars.

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Becci told Metro that she had gone to Tesco to buy the champagne for a friend's birthday. She said, [it] clearly wasn't for me as I was buying it with a bottle bag and birthday card."

The woman on the checkout reportedly asked her, "Are you sure you're allowed that with those scars on your arms?"

With three other customers behind her in the checkout line, Becci was humiliated.

When the supervisor came, according to Becci, he "looked really worried and said that it was Tesco policy to refuse the sale because of my scars. But I think he could see it was a present and said it was fine to serve me."

Tesco has no policy to refuse service to people with scars. The company's response was to send her flowers and an apology but Becci told The Mirror this is not enough.

"I would ideally like a formal apology from the member of staff. I am not blaming Tesco, just individuals without the right training," she said. "I want there to be a massive change in training. Staff need more sensitivity and should know how to deal with things like that.

"It can be humiliating and triggering for people otherwise. Some people don't have unblemished skin, and supermarket staff need to be aware of that. I don't make an effort to cover up my scars and I shouldn't have to."

Becci has shown amazing strength by standing up to this discrimination. The incident suggests that supermarket staff aren't adequately trained to kindly serve the diverse set of customers that walk into their stores. It also points to the stigma and myths about self-harm that are still circulating.

For one thing, self-harm scars are not necessarily a sign that someone is in immediate danger. Self-harm is rarely a suicidal gesture or attempt. In fact, according to a report from The Royal College of Psychiatrists, it can point to the opposite inclination — a desire to live despite suffering, "a form of self-preservation" or a "coping mechanism." The report says that "self-harm helped [some people] to function better, helping them to stay connected with reality."

The Tesco staff member may have been showing genuine concern by refusing the sale of alcohol, if she suspected it may lead to further harm, but the concern belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what self-harm is actually about.

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Showing self-harm scars is not attention-seeking behaviour or a cry for help. By going about her shopping, Becci was not attempting to be noticed by staff or flagged as a potential danger. Again the opposite is true. As she told The Mirror, "I am in a strong place now, so for someone to dismiss my scars and suggest I am still mentally unstable is disgusting. I have worked so hard on it, but they assumed I still had a major issue."

Indeed the fact that she had the bravery to step out of the house without hiding her scars attests to her stability. Many people who self-harm, according to the National Self-Harm Network, go to great lengths to cover them up because of the "shame, embarrassment or fear" involved.

Actually showing scars and facing the potential comments and questions people may have can be incredibly difficult. Mental health ambassador and educator Pooky Knightsmith writes, "One of the major steps in recovery from self-harm can be getting to a point where you feel comfortable enough to stop hiding any scars associated with a difficult time."

Treating people who self-harm, or who have self-harmed in the past, properly is incredibly important because self-harm is far more common than most of us would imagine. Charity, Self-harm UK says that estimating precise statistics about the prevalence of self-harm is very difficult because relatively few people ever feel comfortable enough to talk about it. However The World Health Organisation has estimated that up to one in five British 15-year-olds self-harm. Rates of self-harm in the U.K. are among the highest in Europe.

While the treatment Becci received at Tesco was ridiculous her work in bringing this incident to light is a much-needed reminder to talk about and gain better understanding of self-harm.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article please contact Mind.

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