I’m 30 years old and for the first time in my life, I got acne.
My immediate impulse was to share a before and after for my 6,666 Twitter followers. The before: me two months ago with my usual, youthful skin; the after: a scarred wasteland of regret (OK, maybe it feels worse to me than it really is). It’s a temporary situation brought about by a bad reaction to my new birth control, and I’m approaching it with humor. I feel like being able to laugh at myself when life sucks is relatable, and I wanted to share that with people.
But after logging into Twitter and doing my usual morning housekeeping (muting people with phrases like “deplorable” in their display names), I remembered, “Oh yeah. A lot of people in my online bubble don’t like me and are always looking for new ways to justify that dislike.”
Which is fine. I mean, to an extent—I’d rather people don’t tell me when they dislike me, because their opinions about me are none of my business. But I don’t need everyone to like me or even know who I am, and I don’t spend any part of my day trying to win them over.
It’s a reminder though: social media is not just a hangout for me and my friends. It’s a place where more people than I’ll ever meet can follow my life if they feel like it. I know this well, because I follow and interact with many people I’ve never met in person.
Personally, I am more likely to follow and connect with people who know that even people without their best interests in mind will pass judgement on them, but stay vulnerable anyway. I love reading personal essays. I love bloggers who put their successes as well as their setbacks on display. I like living as many vicarious lives as possible.
For example, my favorite podcast right now is Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn. There are a dozen podcasts about personal finance, but I like this one because I identify so much with host Gaby Dunn. She shares everything—from an anecdote about crying on a sidewalk unable to pay her rent (boo!), to landing a huge payday and putting $8,000 in her retirement fund (yay!), to getting a therapist after her boyfriend dumped her (boo to the breakup, yay to the therapy!). These ups and downs remind me of my own life in fast forward mode. Day to day, I can only see one up or down at a time. But scrolling through a stranger’s feed (or listening to their podcast, or reading their personal essay) is like reading an amazing story that renews my faith in life.
Yes, sharing the negatives about my life gives strangers with bad intentions ammunition to justify their negative opinions, but they also give my readers authenticity. I don’t regret opening up to my readers about struggling with anxiety and depression in the past—even though trolls still like to dig that up as “proof” that I’m “crazy.” The community connection by far outweighed anything outsiders said to me.
Also, sometimes it feels really good to get things off my chest. I recently blogged for Anime Feminist about my privilege—through a combination of scholarships and gifts from my parents, I do not have any student loans. This is especially important for me to share because whenever I talk about how I earn, spend, and save, it’s important to remember that my situation might be different. In this case, not sharing that part of myself is actually disingenuous when I offer advice, even though it is immensely personal, and technically nobody’s business unless I choose to share it.
TL;DR, I advocate sharing plenty about your life—with a few caveats. Here are a few pieces of advice from spending more than half my life online:
You’re not a brand, you’re a person. I consider my account my digital identity more than my brand. I follow hardly any brands on Twitter, except Crunchyroll which is hilarious and frequently off-topic. I really like when people are willing to take a break from promoting whatever it is they believe in to make time for humor or personal stories. Recently, I shared a conversation I had with my 90-year-old grandmother, a story that has nothing to do with fandom or the other things I care about most. It was gratifying to share something so far from my “personal brand,” and reveal another side of my thoughts and beliefs in the same space.
Consider your own safety. Last year, after I wrote about a situation where I was harassed at work, my harasser was emboldened to send additional threats to me, my friends, and my family. You can “own your narrative” but remember that people who want to hurt you can own theirs, too. Never write about where you physically are, or where you soon will be, just in case.
Find a middle ground. I like to share a lot online. My husband doesn’t like to share at all—he even has a locked Twitter account! So because we file taxes jointly and my finances affect his, I don’t include numbers in my monthly income reports. I still can talk to people about my business, but I can do it without making somebody I care about uncomfortable.
Take a break. Sometimes when I’m feeling strongly about something, my impulse is to tweet something immediately. I find that if I first take ten minutes to think about and process my thoughts, I regret it less. I’m also more articulate that way.
This just might not be for you. Some people aren’t cut out for sharing anything, and maybe you are one of them. Don’t force yourself.
Photo by Anthony Rossbach