I've been bullied since I was in 2nd grade!
I've been tormented, being told I'm a freak, fat, ugly, creepy, failure . . .
She is hospitalized in 2011 for an eating disorder. Her father dies from cancer the same year. She resolves to rise above her sufferings:
I will get better . . . I will recover for the both of us
I will make daddy proud.
Guys, don't let life defeat you. You never know when your life will end. ENJOY YOUR LIFE! & never, never take the ones you love for granted
To the tune of "Hallelujah," by Rufus Wainwright, Brandon, 18, also of New York, divulges that
my favorite place to sing is a SUBWAY STATION :)
and in two more pages, tells us
I'm bisexual . . .
I don't love myself
because I like boys
At age 9
I was molested for
the first time . . .
(by an older boy)
A tearful Briawna, 16, of Idaho, tells of abuse, of hating her body, of loneliness, but then:
I love every
I have no reason not
to love anyone.
Watching dozens of these videos, with their tales of bulimia, self-esteem crises, family loss, bullying, and dreams, both breaks the heart and lifts it up, because of their makers' will to live, their faith in the unknown audience.
Secrets videos are also called "confessions videos," and often "Tumblr secrets videos," associated with the microblogging site Tumblr, a prime clearinghouse. The genre seems as old as social media video sharing, so 2005, birth year of YouTube, seems an early boundary.
Satires, fakes, and sabotages abound, but there's little reason not to see most secrets videos as earnest. They are part of a much wider culture of secrets-sharing familiar to the YouTube generation, but next to unknown outside it.
This is the world of PostSecret, Frank Warren's "ongoing community art mail project," which invites viewers to mail in anonymous postcards bearing a single secret ("When Administration asked me to clean out your desk, I found the love letters you wrote to your student. Before I turned them over, I made copies. So I'll always remember the kind of teach I never want to be"). Myriad sites invite viewers to post personal revelations.
Why would you do this? Doesn't it take courage? Or a good dose of narcissism?
Jennifer Maresca, 19, of Brooklyn, made a secrets video in 2010. It told her story, that of a fashion model with anxiety attacks and heart disorders so serious she was still living with her parents and facing agonizing obstacles:
I'm not doing this
for people to feel
bad, but so that
people can under-
stand that there's
beauty in tragedy
and tragedy in beauty
She says she was drawn to secrets videos on Tumblr and decided to make her own video because "Tumblr is an outlet and a place for people to express their insecurities as well as the issues they deal with in their personal life, without judgment."
The audience plays a crucial role, reacting, commenting, encouraging, praising. A viewer named healthylifestyle11 reposts Erin's video and writes: "This girl is amazing. I don't know her personally, but she has been through sooo much and I hope she knows how beautiful she is."
Secrets videos often attract tens of thousands of viewers; the comments build up, creating (at least sometimes) a community of sympathy and understanding. Brandon's video had 72,097 views as of Sept. 6. Maresca's had attracted 11,679 - a number at which she says she is "actually in shock. . . . I never thought it would go as viral as it did. . . . I feel honored that so many people not only took an interest in what I had to say, but also passed it around to others."
Saskia, 17, of Melbourne, Australia, posted a secrets video that attracted more than 21,000 hits. "I really love the community because they are very supportive," she says. "I think it is insane how many people have watched my video. It makes me feel really good that there are so many people out there who just want to help."
Brittany, 17, from South Brunswick, N.J., says the fact of community was the main thing that moved her to do a secrets video. "I saw all the supportive comments," she says, "and I figured someone could relate. Then I'd have someone just like me. It would make me feel less alone."
Neil Bernstein, a psychologist in the Washington area who works with adolescents, says, "Sure, there's an element of voyeurism, attention-getting behavior, the turn-on of show-and-tell, the normal teenage thing." Fresh from just having watched a few secrets videos, he sees real loneliness, both expressed and assuaged.
"But I wouldn't rule out the good things here," Bernstein says. "What better place to share your innermost secrets than cyberspace? It's the ultimate support group. There's empathy, compassion. And sharing is cathartic." But he also sees risks: "What oversight is there? What if a truly at-risk person is genuinely suicidal or desperate, and they get a humiliating or bullying comment?"
Bernstein also thinks secrets videos embody a new attitude to personal privacy: "This is a world in which the boundaries of privacy have been obscured."
Brittany, who grew up with the Web, shows great faith in the compassion of the crowd: "Sharing your story to a big audience is risky, but it just means you have a better chance of finding someone who understands."
Saskia agrees, and says that, sometimes, the circle closes. In her video, two cards say:
I was severely
in self harm
She says the bully saw her video and wrote her on Facebook: "i would just like to say i'm sorry cause i know i caused some of the stuff you showed."
In retrospect, all of these secret sharers - to a woman - are glad they shared. They have been told repeatedly that they are valuable people, inspiring, and have helped others live through pain and disappointment. In turn, they themselves have been helped. Brittany says, "It gives me hope to know that someone out there cares about me. . . . It makes me feel like I'm not some waste of space, like someone actually wants to help and actually wants to get to know me."
"The abundance of support," says Maresca, "made me change my mind about humanity."
Contact staff writer John Timpane at 215-854-4406, email@example.com,
or @jtimpane on Twitter.