This is what I’m on about! ‘It Happened to Me’

whats your story 4I always read the Guardian’s Experience page. Thousands, maybe millions of people buy real life story magazines each week, and internet publications are filled with first person stories.

But there’s a cost.

There’s a cost to the person who exposes their self to the media, and in this article, Mandy Stadtmiller, a ‘former first-person human trafficker‘ – also known as an online journalist for website xoJane –  talks about how easily it all gets out of control.

Mandy’s conclusion is that first person pieces have helped: “These squirmy, awful, brilliant pieces have encouraged us all to be a lot more honest about the human experience. A lot less afraid to be honest.” My feeling after reading her article is still shaped by some of the experiences she explores, where people have been attacked online, have had to withdraw from the online world altogether after sharing their story. Mandy explained her pitch to people: “I ran into Sonja Morgan from Real Housewives at a party the other day, and she reminded me of what I told her before I profiled her in the New YorkPost. I told her that the headline would likely humiliate her and she would be positioned in a way that was making fun of her, but that it would be terrific, wide-ranging, must-see press. So — was she in? ” This rings of a world where we have becomes so sucked in by the desire to be seen that we will accept being made fun of, accept humiliation, just for the clicks, for the exposure. Thinking about exposure in another context, who wants to be exposed? There’s something out of balance in these real life stories, whether you are hungry for exposure of self, or whether you are the editor, feeding your ravening audience a diet that has to be ever more shocking.

We no longer know what is normal, what is private. ‘It Happened to Me’ stories do play an essential role in helping people process their own experiences, but they also chew people up and spit them out in pieces.

In another piece, I write, as writer, as story teller: “I am hungry: tell me a story. I am never satisfied.” Do you want to be fed to the beast?

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Where we tell our stories – newspapers and magazines

I’m trying to focus this study, but that means examining the broad range of outlets in which we tell our stories. Blogs, books, and print media seem to be the three main places. There is an enormous appetite, it seems for real life stories in newspapers and magazines. I always read the ‘experience’ page in the Guardian magazine on Saturdays. For a taster, if you’re not familiar with the slot, have a look at this:

Experience: I chose to amputate my leg

And scroll through all the stories here.

At some point, I want to analyse the stories in more depth, perhaps look at the topics and what people choose to share. Beyond that, though, I want to understand what drives people to tell stories that are often traumatic. What do we gain when telling a story, and getting closer to the focus of this study, what do we feel, how do we change, when the story appears in print one Saturday?

PS: if you interview people for this slot, could you get in touch? I’d be interested in your views on why people volunteer and how they feel about telling their stories. Similarly, if you have appeared in something like this, please leave a comment!