The Problem With Writing Personal Essays on the Internet

Published on 4/22/2024

It was hard to miss the conversation surrounding the most recent personal essay to go viral: The Case for Marrying an Older Man. Written by Grazie Sophia Christie, this article discusses her choice to marry an older man and how this has impacted her life. There are a lot of discussions and criticism surrounding this article, and I’m not going to go into anymore of them. I don’t want to debate the writer’s choices in this article, I want to discuss the field of personal essays as a whole.

While I have never been fortunate enough to write a personal essay that has gone viral or been featured in a publication like The Cut or the New York Times, I’ve done my fair share of unloading on the internet. Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of blog posts zooming in on the ugly, lesser-known aspects of my mental illness. I’ve told my keyboard more than I have my closest friends. I forced myself to hit publish on articles that I panicked about in the days that followed. I didn’t just talk about the ‘more acceptable’ aspects of mental illness, but also the parts we’d rather not confront, like bulimia, self-harm, and self-sabotaging behaviours.

It felt easier when it was on my blog and Medium, as I had a very niche and small audience. I still received hateful comments, but never to the extent that more viral articles did. I began writing for other publications as well. For Pop Sugar, I discussed how the ‘girl dinner trend’ conflicted with my eating disorder recovery. For Insider, I explained the struggles of being the first person in a friend group to lose my father. Neither article went ‘viral,’ and that’s kind of a relief.

Because as a writer, I want nothing more than for people to read my work. But as a human being, I’m absolutely terrified of a personal essay getting any attention.

We claim we want personal essays

Over the years, a lot of media has shifted towards personal essays. We’re no longer satisfied with listicles or feature-reported pieces without any personal investment. We require our writers to bare their souls. We want their ugliest truths on the screen for all to digest. On the surface, this is about being able to relate to them, to see ourselves in their confessions. But underneath, it’s a cruel need to know someone before you tear them apart.

We urge writers to create personal essays and share their deepest, darkest thoughts. We want to hear about their most traumatic moments, the memories that keep them up at night, the ways in which they’re bad/odd/imperfect. And then, we destroy them.

Have you ever wondered why it’s the people closest to you that can hurt you the most? It’s because they know exactly what buttons to push. I used to have this thought in arguments with my ex-boyfriend. I’d look at him and know that I contained the exact words that would hurt him most. I knew his deepest insecurities, and with one sharpened sentence, I could gut him emotionally. But I chose not to, I chose the lighter, more surface-level arguments, and I protected him from that cruelty. I realised then that relationships are knowing someone well enough to break them, but loving them enough not to do it.

With a personal essay, we’re skipping past all those first dates and giving the reader exactly what they need to hurt us. It’s a relationship of trust between writer and reader, and maybe that’s an aspect of the appeal as well. The writer is stripping down and asking to be loved, and giving the reader that trust. But as readers, we’re not respecting that relationship.

We don’t deserve personal essays

Since the internet was invented, it’s been a place for unloading. Through personal blogs (which have come a long way), Tumblr, Twitter, and every other platform available to us. We have always shared, the difference with these personal essays on prestigious platforms is that they receive a wider audience, and thus more chance of the wrong people finding it.

We all know the internet gives us a sense of anonymity which allows us to be our worst selves. I’ll be honest, I don’t quite get it myself. I can’t imagine writing some of the hateful comments I see on TikTok videos. But there’s a space for critiquing, and nothing is above structured criticism. My issue is with the hate, the unabashed hate. We’re given an inch of someone, so we assume the next mile of them.

We take this little glimpse into someone and make it their entire personality, and we blame them for this decision. We take their words and stretch them until they fit our meaning. Some of it is justified, and a lot of it isn’t.

I’m more hesitant to write personal essays now, and in many ways, it has held me back from writing. I’m scared, truth be told. I’m scared to become the recipient of that. I used to worry about how all these truths would impact my future, but now I’m more worried about them in the present. I used to open up with the idea that it could help someone out there, but now I don’t feel like the internet is deserving of such honesty, when I see how it treats my fellow writers.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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