When you search “eating disorder” on the Vice website, you get well over 2,000 hits, only dating back to 2014. Search the Slate site and you come up with hundreds in the same time period, a clear sign of internet supersaturation. This alone should be a huge wake-up call that we are spending too much time writing about the subject just for the sake of page views.
This constant exposure of our struggles encourages the idea that trauma creates the most valuable stories, or, even worse, are the only stories people want to hear. Writing about an experience as harrowing as an eating disorder or depression can be cathartic, but that doesn’t always mean it should be published.
Last September, Slate published an article wondering the same thing — when did these deeply personal first person pieces become so commonplace? Does anything have shock value anymore? For that matter, does anything have any value anymore?
“…First-person essays have also become the easiest way to jolt an increasingly jaded Internet to attention, as the bar for provocation has risen higher and higher,” the article says. And the cost is that, both as editors and readers, we no longer pause and wonder if the article is saying anything new – or merely oversharing.
Please trust me when I say I don’t intend to be mean. I’m stating my opinion on the onslaught of first-person confessionals on the internet. If you’re adding your story for the sake of catharsis, consider a diary. Our fascination with trauma continues the seemingly never-ending stream of stories saying It Happened to Me, And Here’s Why You Should Care without adding value or tools for those who empathize with us.
We as a society have become obsessed with airing our dirty laundry simply because it’s scandalous. It can feel good to tell the world all the terrible things we’ve done, but is it really productive?
I firmly believe that a lot of the reason we have become inundated with online confessionals over the past few years is due to the fact that millennials love to talk about themselves. Romantic ideas about quitting your job to travel the world. First-person portrayals of depression. The ubiquitous disordered eating story. Thanks to the internet, we simply cannot escape the first-person tell-all.
Videos of tearful reality TV-style car confessionals and soap box speeches are like invasive kudzu vines, choking out the genuinely funny and important things on the internet (like everything bagel donuts and cat videos). And may I say to every person that hasn’t used the internet as their personal confessional: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
In an age when we #doitforthelikes, the line between sharing in order to encourage others to feel safe in speaking out and merely word vomiting personal details onto the Internet has been all but erased.
By this point, does anyone really believe they’re adding something new to the conversation? Did that travel piece make you realize anything more than that you’re not financially secure enough to say fuck the real world and live in Fiji? When was the last time you read an anorexia tell-all that gave you new insight into the world of disordered eating?
I can sympathize with many of these writers. I can even empathize – I’ve been there, to a lesser extent. Obviously, because I’m a girl who played with Barbies and owns a mirror, I have struggled with my own personal disordered eating. I also have an army of family skeletons in my closet and have dreamt of running away to travel the world with nothing but a sun hat and a laptop. “Au revoir, real life,” my Instagram caption would read.
But there is nothing original or interesting about this. So for that very reason, I keep my mouth shut about it — if I’m not adding value to the blogosphere with my writing, I’d rather not do it at all.
We’ve become accustomed to constant attention, 100 percent of the time. This isn’t normal. Nobody deserves the spotlight shining on them this much. Nobody is that important, except for maybe the current president of the United States. So naturally, when we’re feeling unheard we take to any platform that will have us and say, “I’ve experienced this trauma, let me write about it.”
That’s not to say that a lot of the onus isn’t on us as editors. In an age where digital media is growing at unimaginable speeds, the pressure to do more and be better than every other site is very real. As a result, we allow weak writing onto the internet bearing our names for the sheer sake of page views. If it bleeds, (or starves itself or lacks serotonin or has wanderlust) it leads.
And because now we’re not allowed to tell anyone that maybe writing isn’t their strong suit or their story isn’t especially original because god forbid we offend anyone ever, we’re forced to sit through another post about how working as a contortionist saved a girl from depression (spoiler alert: endorphins!) or how Asian cultural norms made you feel fat when you were a totally normal size and your mom made you go to Korea and get a rib removed. Actually, I’d read that.
Of course, the human perspective is what makes a story interesting. Nobody wants to read 500 words of pure statistics. But we’ve reached the apex of the “my trauma makes me unique and I have a story to tell” era. No one’s story is all that different when it comes to experiencing bad shit. Read any of the memoirs, and you’ll see it’s true; they’re just written in varying shades of expertise.
So stop and think before you submit an article about your struggle to a publication. Ask yourself, “who am I helping with this article? What message do I want to send? Am I saying anything new or insightful?” If you can brave it, do a searching and fearless moral inventory and ask yourself the hard question: is it for the likes? If your gut even hints at yes, there’s your answer.
Writing is one of the most cathartic acts known to man; being able to put down on paper (or on screen, as it were) your darkest and most painful thoughts is incredibly freeing. But that’s why Judy Blume revolutionized the diary – while writing may be incredibly freeing for you, perhaps it’s worth stopping and thinking about where you’re putting that information and why.