When Ellie Tesher opens her emails, life pours out. Each week, tens of thousands of readers rely on her to be their unbiased voice of reason.
Ellie has been dispensing advice professionally for more than a decade and now, not only does she have a syndicated column published across the country, but she also hosts a weekly web chat.
In the latest episode of Her Story, MediaFace finds out the history of advice columns, Ellie's family history in the business and the best pieces of advice she's given (and received).
Ellie says some of the most interesting questions she receives come from 12 and 13-year-old girls.
"[They're asking] about bullying, about being asked to do blow-jobs. I'm serious... I didn't expect it and it's sad."
I wasn't surprised.
I was one of those girls who regularly submitted questions online to advice columnists during my formative years. Every week I would go to purplepjs.com -- a site that was tailored for young girls to anonymously ask questions about everything from sex to dating to dreams.
The site no longer exists, but it was a place where frank (and sometimes awkward) questions were submitted all the time. I visited the site each day and soon became the person many of my friends turned to for advice. Little did they know, I was outsourcing my information.
My obsession soon faded, but I always had fond memories of purplepjs.com. As a young adult I revisited the site, only to find it had grown and was expanding its roster of advice columnists. My eyes lit up.
I was brought on to be an advice columnist for the Big Sister page. This was one of the most popular sections that needed three columnists in order to handle the influx of daily submissions.
My advice may not have been the best, but it provided an answer to a young girl who was looking for someone to talk to. I kept the volunteer gig for several years, happy to give back to the online community that had such a huge impact on me growing up.
Even as an adult, you can see why the model works. As Ellie explains, many people can't afford a therapist or don't know where to find one, yet still yearn for an outside perspective. So they look for an easy, free and anonymous way of getting advice.
"It's rare that you find people [in your life] that don't have their own agenda," says Ellie. "You're getting the answer that you knew you'd get, so that's why a so-called neutral advice person... is who you go to."
Advice giving as we know it dates back to the 19th century when an American journalist, who went by the name Dorothy Dix, began answering letters from readers. At her peak in the 1940's, it's reported that she was receiving 100,000 letters a year with readers in more than five different countries.
Today, Ellie has tens of thousands of readers that follow her through her syndicated articles and online. She says she loves the job because it feels good to help others.
It's a feeling I know well.
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