Mackenzie Thomas, the TikToker Whose Shame Led to Her Fame

Most people wouldn’t want anyone to catch a glimpse of what’s inside their teenage diaries. Puberty-era chronicles about crushes, changing bodies and being grounded — all inked in colorful glitter — would be too embarrassing (or traumatizing) to revisit, even in private. But not for Mackenzie Thomas.

Ms. Thomas, 24, has amassed more than 440,000 followers on TikTok by posting videos in which she monotonously reads aloud old diary entries. “How are the boys at school supposed to understand me when my brain is a computer?” she ponders in an entry from 2012.

In another scraggly note, written two years later, she documented eating lip gloss her mother had bought her: “It was from Sephora. It was vanilla coconut flavored. And tonight in my room I squirted the whole thing in my mouth and digested it.”

She continued: “I am a gross girl. I am a sad girl.”

The contents of her teenage memoirs — unsanitized, largely unedited and filled with many expletives — seem to resonate with many TikTok users.

The comments section overflows with viewers’ own mortifying teenage memories. “It’s become a space for people to feel less alone and less weird about themselves,” Ms. Thomas said. “If I’m able to work my past humility and shame into stuff that makes millions of people feel seen, that’s the ultimate gift.”

Edwin Malavé Maldonado, a 36-year-old illustrator in Puerto Rico, wrote in a comment on one of Ms. Thomas’s posts: “I feel like you’ve lived random episodes of my life in a weird multiverse kind of way.” In an interview, he added that the diary entries capture “the surrealism of our teenage thoughts, those first-world problems that drown our mundane existence.”

Ms. Thomas, who lives in Brooklyn, remembers the first time her mother bought her a journal. She was 11, and the journal was from a Target in New Jersey, where she grew up. Jotting down her innermost thoughts was a much-needed outlet, especially as a mixed-race child.

“My mom is Black and my dad is white,” Ms. Thomas said. “I went to a white, white school, and I was not white enough for those white girls.” She said that she often felt alienated in grade school, so she began to write everything down — things that kept her up at night, things that made her laugh, things she loved and things she hated.

She has accumulated more than 20 diaries since then, though some are only partly full. They sit in a stack next to her bed.

In 2021, Ms. Thomas graduated from Emerson College with a degree in comedic arts and was living in Los Angeles, where she built a modest following on TikTok from posting funny videos. In one, she mocked Julia Fox’s pronunciation of the movie title “Uncut Gems” as “uncuh jamz,” which became a viral trend. “I’m chasing a belly laugh from myself all the time,” Ms. Thomas said.

Wondering how to keep her followers — and herself — laughing, she turned to her diaries. She had already been in the habit of reading them when she was feeling down to remind herself that her “problems were actually hilarious,” she said. Why not share that same joy with the rest of the world? “I’m over cringing at myself, and I have been over it for a very long time,” she said.

Some of the diary posts have been viewed millions of times. Many are laugh-out-loud funny, even the painful ones, like a 2016 entry about her mother telling her she had “a creepy alien touch.” In another post, Ms. Thomas reads an entry about overhearing her father on the phone, telling someone he was taking her to violin lessons when he was really taking her to improv class.

“As an adult, it’s easier to be celebrated for things that make you different,” Ms. Thomas said. “When you’re a kid, what keeps you safe is being the same as everyone else.”

Now, revisiting those times — of feeling like an alien, and sometimes being told she was one too — is healing. “I can be an older sister to myself,” said Ms. Thomas, who is an only child.

“These videos are exemplars of meme culture, in they use humor as a vehicle to dig deeply into shared emotion,” said Heather Suzanne Woods, an assistant professor of media and communication at Kansas State University, in an email. Professor Woods added that “the wisdom of young people can be overlooked by society as superfluous,” but Ms. Thomas’s videos give some insight into their unvarnished thoughts.

When Sheryl Hadad, an accountant in Israel, first saw one of Ms. Thomas’s posts, she felt an instant connection. “There was something about the way she says things that makes every situation feel close and personal, like someone finally says what we’re all thinking and feeling,” she said.

Ms. Hadad, 21, even got a tattoo of a line from one of Ms. Thomas’s diaries that reads: “A wet sack of potatoes knows more about happiness than I do.”