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Forgive my morbidity for some interesting research:

The Research

Women who commit suicide are more likely than men to avoid facial disfiguration, but not necessarily in the name of vanity.

Valerie Callanan from the University of Akron and Mark Davis from the Criminal Justice Research Center at the Ohio State University, USA, show that there are marked gender differences in the use of suicide methods that disfigure the face or head.

While firearms are the preferred method for both men and women, women are less likely to shoot themselves in the head.

Methods

After reviewing medical examiner’s files of 621 suicide cases in Summit County, Ohio in the US, covering a 10-year period (1997-2006), the researchers found that women were significantly less likely than men to use suicide methods with the potential to disfigure the face or head. Indeed, men were nearly twice as likely as women to have used such methods.

The researchers also found that for every one-unit increase in blood alcohol level, the odds of using a disfiguring method increased by nearly 10 percent. Gender, age, stressful life events and prior suicide attempts all predicted the use of methods that disfigure the face and head. I suppose that the reduction of inhibitions from the intake of alcohol lessens the worry about bodily harm.

The authors conclude:

To suggest that women are less likely to shoot themselves in the face or head because they are more concerned about their appearance than men is to minimize the significance of the act of suicide. What we do know is that those experiencing stressful life events are at far greater risk of employing an especially lethal method of suicide than those not experiencing such events.

My Opinion

While many may assume that women are less likely to shoot themselves in the face because of some detriment to their own appearance, I think that the issue is much deeper than that.

My concern with the vanity assumption is that I would think people about to send themselves to the great beyond would not be concerned about their body’s appearance. Women may simply be reflecting a care for their own bodies that has been fostered over years and years of socially constructed primping and maintenance. Most men do not go through this process (in similar proportions), and this may therefore be a psychological factor. The cases considered may have wanted open-casket funerals, and therefore did not want to damage their own appearance for their family’s sake. Perhaps women have not been primed by various media (TV shows, movies, video games etc.) to go for the “headshot”. Or perhaps they don’t want to stare down the barrel of a gun in any case. There are too many variables left out of this study to conclude that women are acting out of vanity.

These are speculations about interesting statistics, but let us not diminish the act of suicide itself. The main predictors of suicide (stressful life events, depression, etc.) should never be ignored and help should be sought in any situation if a person expresses such feelings to you. Life is too precious to ever waste.

Sources

Story: Suicide methods differ between men and women

Journal: Callanan VJ & Davis MS (2011). Gender and suicide method: do women avoid facial disfiguration? Sex Roles DOI:10.1007/s11199-011-0043-0