Diaries: The Girlhood Epitome Disrupted by the Digital

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A few weeks ago, I went to see “The 8th Grade Movie.” In it, the main character, Kayla, is an unconfident teen who so badly wants to have popular friends, a boyfriend, and an envious social life. Sh used social media and YouTube as an outlet, ironically creating videos on “how to have confidence,” and “how to love yourself.” I sat in the theater feeling all that Kayla felt, remembering my own time in 8th grade. However, the biggest difference between our two lives was that Kayla used YouTube as her self-expression platform, while I wrote in a paper diary when I was her age.

On Christmas day when I was 10 years old, I was gifted a monkey-clad journal from the oh-so-popular Justice store. At the time, all of my beloved favorite book series featured main characters who were around my age and were avid diary writers.

One of my favorite book series “The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes,” followed a red-haired, quirky fifth grader who collects calendars and religiously writes in her diary. Another one of my favorite series, “The Beacon Street Girls,” featured a main character named Charlotte who was a writer since birth (named after Charlotte from “Charlotte’s Web,” of course) and kept a diary. I also loved a book called “The Wedding Planner’s Daughter.” The Wedding Planner’s Daughter, aka Willa, loves poetry and told many things to only her diary.

The Diary of a Teenage and Pre-Teen Girl

Maybe I sought out book characters that represented the smart, cultured writing wiz that I wanted (and still want) to become, but the girl diarist was not a hard character to find. Girlhood is dramatically defined by dairy-keeping and it’s constantly found in literature-both old and new- that features girls and young women from the times of Louisa May Alcott to Anne Frank to today.

Of course, anyone can document their day, their feelings, their hopes, their wishes. Then  why is this such a common activity for girls? If a boy did something of this nature, the work would likely be categorized as a journal. Diaries tend to have a connotation of being woven with strings of DNA consisting of XX chromosomes that zip up their binding.

Girlhood is not just the state of being a girl, but a mood- there’s a strong feeling associated with it. Diaries, to me, represent so much of what it means to be a young girl growing up, especially during those years where you’re just starting to figure out the world and make sense of all that is going on while clinging to the last bits of your childhood. Diaries give you the empty pages to decorate or question or document and it’s interesting to see the evolution over the months and years day-to-day.

I kept multiple diaries and wrote in them almost every day starting right before my 11th birthday until around my 13th birthday. After that, I wrote in my last diary sporadically, usually detailing long updates on my high school life every few months.

Those diaries contained precious details of my life during years when my interests, best friends, and body were changing rapidly. Boys went from weird to suddenly intriguing to changing and I morphed from a happy-go-lucky kid to a confused-and-sometimes-sad pre-teen.

Together, the pages explain this transformation from the source.

Another big change over these years was the tech my classmates and peers were accumulating. I begged for a cell phone in 5th grade and wished for an iPod Touch for three birthdays. I ended up with a Samsung phone that I contributed $15 to each month and an iPod shuffle that my mom bought as a Black Friday deal.

I often think about the role technology played in my life and how it may have affected my diary writing habits. I bought my first iPhone the summer before high school and received my own personal laptop from school after my sophomore year of high school. I turned to the Internet and specifically social media as my creative outlet and platform, choosing to share my life there.

Social Media as Modern Day Diary

Teenagers and preteens are some of the most active users of social media. And they have more options to express themselves, question, and document their days than ever before through available technology.

Social media can be many things: a journal, a sketchbook, a portfolio, a gallery. But can it be a diary?

All forms of self-expression are capsules and I firmly believe you should have something to look back on, regardless of the medium. Using social media to track your life and share pictures is not inherently bad, and I commend people for using platforms for publicly sharing their opinions and experience.

However, it is my belief that diaries are an everlasting manifestation of growing up girl, but technology is redefining the diary. Print diaries versus online replacements have noticeable differences, and I do not think digital platforms should be a replacement. Diaries possess the unique ability to be private spaces that offer something unique in the maturity process.

I can scroll through my own Instagram and Facebook feed and can see a chronicle of my life since I downloaded the applications. Most of my content is simply photos of me with friends of different places. Occasionally, I write longer captions and post- I can look to my New Year’s post in particular.

On New Year’s Day, I posted a photo of myself along with a caption listing my 18 goals for 2018. Some example ones include, “Give others the benefit of the doubt,” “Take dance classes because I miss my dance days, and “Loosen my need for control.”

Writing out these goals and posting them on social media was somewhat gutsy (at least for me), and even though you can learn about me and my character from them, they don’t tell the full story, describe my emotional state, or define why I wanted to do these things.

I would have written in the privacy of a diary to explain these choices that I knew I needed to work on taking control all the time and pushing myself to be perfect constantly. I would have opened up about how I felt I was missing a creative outlet in college. In it, I would have detailed how some days, I still occasionally have bad days with food. Although I am writing this knowing it is going to be published online, I never would normally say this online (and I’m with holding a lot). Social media is not designed for vulnerability- or at least it is not typically used for such- even though it mimics that documentation aspect of a diary, which is where people get confused. Anyone who has written in a diary knows that it is more than documentation.


Art Imitates Life

Back to, “The 8th Grade Movie.”  In hindsight, it may not seem like an apparent difference that Kayla utilized the technology available to her as a modern dairy. However, YouTube and other platforms have noticeable differences when it comes to content.

In many of her videos, Kayla acted as though she was someone that she was not, filming videos on how to love yourself and how to be confident, even though she was preaching something she did not practice.

I felt for her, as she did not seem to have a place to let out her anxiety and emotions in their most true form because when you are using any digital platform, there is always the fear that someone could see it. Part of digital culture is the ability to manipulate your work, especially as you can edit, archive, or delete posts.

Thus, digital platforms are rarely an authentic portrayal of the author, even if you are not actively trying to project an alter-self.

A lot of the days that I wrote pages and pages into my diaries about were some of my worst days- the time I broke my arm at dance class, the times my friends “forgot” to invite me, the days when my 7th-grade crush asked someone else to dance at the middle-school dance.

Of course, I wrote about positive events in my life as well, but the whole point of a diary is it was my one place to share the not-so-perfect parts of my life. Because we all know that no thirteen-year-olds (or thirty year old’s) life is perfect. The best part about a diary is that it’s not expected to portray a curated, flawless existence or even be visible to the public.

Meanwhile, social media is strictly reserved for the best shots of my life- showcasing the best of the best.

When Your Private Thoughts Become Public

Tweens, teens, and college students may roll their eyes and say that their Finsta is their online diary. Finstas- aka “Fake Instagrams”-  a private profile disguised by an unsuspecting (and often crude) username that you usually only share with your closest friends who you deem worthy of witnessing your not-so-perfect self- are common amongst young people.

Many would argue that their finsta is private…. Until, of course, someone betrays your trust and screenshots a post. There is no way privacy exists online and the whole reason for a diary’s existence is that it’s supposed to be strictly confidential, for your eyes only,

What happens when there is nowhere to keep thoughts that are just your own and reflect your true character, both good and bad?

People should not be afraid of privacy. Repeat- privacy is not a bad thing. It does not mean there is something to hide or that you do not want others a part of your life. Solo exploration allows you to develop independently and discover who you without exterior pressures or group dynamics. If you formulate an opinion on your own or work through a problem on your own, you are often better off and more equipped to be steadfast in your beliefs and capable of overcoming any difficulties yourself.

As a young woman, I acknowledge that I am so much learning to do and so much growing and maturing to do. I make mistakes every day. I have questions about the world. I have good days and I have bad days. I like to share things on my social media and to my friends, but there’s also opinions, ideas, and thoughts that are special only to me. I want to have a place of authenticity without fear that my privacy could be violated.

Part of growing up is balancing the private and the public. There are many options for public projection, but diaries give this you this individual place of self-discovery that a social presence cannot provide.

I’ll sometimes still reach for the diary that’s sitting in my drawer and write. Someday I want to look back on my experience as a twenty-year-old and remember exactly how I was feeling without fear or possible deletion. It is my place to figure who I am and who I want to be.


Author: Maura Sheedy