I watched them from afar, trembling whenever they came close. I never knew whether they would bestow a benevolent smile or scowl at my imperfection. It started in third grade – whispers on the playground in small huddles. In fourth grade, I spent an entire night sobbing when I was denied a birthday party invitation. In eighth grade, I listened to the jeers about my height and love of literature. I slouched at my desk in high school, desperately hoping they would ignore my pants that were too short, the wrong brand, and awkward on my long legs.
But they never ignored an opportunity. They always found a stray thread on my self-confidence to pull, ripping the seams and shredding my self-worth.
Those girls grew up. Backpacks became Kate Spade bags and slap bracelets became diamond rings. They have a new playground – Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, message boards.
Mean girls, set to conquer and destroy, but now with a keyboard and barbed fingers.
A few years ago, I stumbled across a community of message boards – I was a lonely newlywed, young and looking for friendship. On these boards, I found my very best friends. During the day, we would sneak online during lunch breaks to check-in, chatting about everything from home decor to sex to tips on merging bank accounts. At night and on weekends, we would meet for coffee dates and walks around the local lake. We were kind and funny, but over time, we spent more energy on the message boards and branched out into the community. I discovered the mighty weight of my words and “popularity” on the boards.
With a few strokes on the keys, I could tap out a rapid-fire response and whittle my words into any form. I quickly learned the art of “snark,” otherwise known as a comeback laced with snap and sarcasm and irony. Anyone who dared question my authority over the board was met with an arched eyebrow and biting retort, sending folks straight into pearl-clutching and panty-twisting. I was smart. Biting. Witty. But cruel.
The worst part is? I thought I was being funny. In my heart and mind, I was being tongue-in-cheek and full of sass. People were afraid of me, and I got a high off the ass-kissing and pontificating. I thought I was “harmlessly” educating stupid questions that were deserving of snide remarks, punishment for inadequacy. Looking back, I was simply being cruel. I had become the mean girl that I feared in grade school, preying on others insecurities to buffer the sting of my own. and there lies the heart of the entire tragic existence:
Why is a mean girl so mean?
Because she sucks at life. She’s over-compensating for what is missing in her life. and she’s an asshole.
Really. Trust me, I am an expert on this subject as proven above.
When I think back on all of the time wasted on the Internet, belittling someone’s values and intelligence, I am only faced with the void in my own life. I had nothing important to weigh me down to earth or hold me responsible for my actions. Nothing that demanded responsibility to humanity or myself. I thought that my words bounced through the air, never really landing or causing harm with any permanence. As if the people behind the other computer screens were not real people with hearts and feelings.
I was wrong.
I never fully realized the implications of my actions until I looked at Harrison and was faced with his innocence. I am responsible for shaping his life and his value of humanity. When he sees his mother acting so recklessly, what does that teach him? Who am I to teach him that another person’s thoughts, creativity, feelings, and values are wrong? I realized under the humbling weight of motherhood that I needed to change.
Unfortunately, I can never take back those words that I flung so carelessly to strangers. Even if I tried, I could not find every individual that I spoke to and apologize for my cruelty. In many circles, my online reputation is shattered and I pay for it daily with emails and trolling on my personal blog. A digital footprint is not easily erased.
If you are ever hounded by an online mean girl, please take heart – it’s not you, it’s her. She is intimidated by something she sees in you because it reflects something inside of her – either something she hates to see in herself, or more often, pure jealousy over what she lacks in comparison.
If you are tempted to play the roll of the mean girl, I beg you to stop and think before hitting “send” or “publish.” What is your motivation? Would you say it to your child? Your mother? Mother Teresa herself? Those words will be there forever. Make sure they are words you are willing to stand by forever.
Photo Credit: J_O_I_D.
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