Family, Self

Adult "Mean Girls": When Cyberbullying Doesn't Have An Age Limit

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According to a 2014 study by No, over half of young people have been cyberbullied. It's a growing problem especially amid tweens and teens, causing parents to be hyper-vigilant about technology supervision.

But cyberbullying isn't limited to those dealing with growth spurts and raging hormones.

The other players in the cyberbullying world are full, grown adults, untethered from moderation and free to troll the Internet as they wish. And worse: These bullies are as malicious as the adolescent ones you work so hard to protect your children from.

Last month, I published an article I wrote chronicling my struggles with online dating on xoJane. It focused on a personal experience, and included photos that were used on my online dating profile.

The essay went viral. Apparently my experience hit a nerve with others who were experiencing a similar situation. At the end the article, I asked readers to share their own online dating grievances. 

Interested in the feedback, I scrolled through the comments. The majority shared constructive criticism about creating a more appealing online dating profile, which I very much appreciated. Others sympathized because they had experienced similar situations.

But then the conversation took a dark twist.

Jokes and jabs about my physical appearance started popping up on my screen: 

"Instead of getting on a roller coaster she needs to get on a treadmill."

"You like Hulu with your cat, and ... Muppets. Your (sic) over weight and dress like a PTA mom from Kansas. And you wonder why you are having trouble getting dates? Is this like some performance art piece?"

"I have laughed so much after reading some of these comments."

"Sorry to be honest but overweight, unflattering pics, generic profile with homebody interests, seemingly low self-esteem, and a pet cat? There's so many more choices for men in any metro area who have some game, I guess you need to lower your standards or move to a place where there's less competition?"

"From the look of her, big-girl panties is an appropriate description."

"Yeah, guys who don't like fat entitled girls are dumb."

"The reality is — you're fat. Doesn't matter how great your personality or cat is. No one wants to deal with an unfit person headed for knee and back problems, diabetes and heart disease. You're as bad a risk for a mate as you are for health insurance."

Call me naïve, but backlash and vulgar commentary about my physical appearance was the last thing I expected.

When I wrote a follow-up reaction piece on my personal blog, one bully actually quoted it and commented on the original article.

My blood ran cold as cyberbullies used my own words — words I wrote with the intent to make others feel less alone — against me.

Just when I thought I'd experienced the brunt of it, I stumbled across a few online threads created for the sole purpose of ripping my physical appearance apart. As I tried to hold back tears fueled by shock and anger, I saw my photo on message board threads with vile comments such as:

"Let's see: fake smile, masculine pose, b*tchy look, fat, below average face. The only way some c*nt like this could make a man happy is go into a dark room and never come out."

"This is the picture of her that makes me just want to smash her face in."

"I found some more pictures of her, if she could lose about 70 to 80 pounds it would probably help her self esteem."

Tears sprung from my eyes that were eerily reminiscent of ones shed when I was bullied in elementary school. The only difference was that instead of crying into a Spice Girl's comforter like I did in 1999, my tears landed on my MacBook Pro in a coffee shop down the street from my very own apartment.

As a parent, if you saw your child posting a hurtful comment on their Facebook page about a peer or saw they were part of a conversation that scrutinized another kid, what would you do?

Maybe the solution would be suspending their online privilege  or making them apologize to the victim. And then you'd wonder what made your child feel the need to be a bully.

In most cases, bullying is a coping mechanism and a way to overcompensate for lack of self-worth. Adult cyberbullies who feel compelled to rip apart a virtual stranger must be experiencing a life hardship — and most likely, my article hasn't been their only target. 

Writer Galit Breen wrote about her encounter with adult cyber bullies after being their target based on an article she wrote. These bullies made hurtful comments about her physical appearance even though her article had NOTHING to do with that. It focused primarily on her marriage.

Just because I'm a strong, independent, grown woman doesn't diminish how much bullying stings. (And if you think you'd be able be 100 percent unaffected by reading comments like these, you're lying.)

Yes, everyone has the right to freedom of speech and their own opinion but how has it become acceptable for adults to abuse that privilege in such a vile, cruel way?

No one in their proper cognizance would dare say the above comments to a person's face — and if they did, nine out of 10 people would slap them in the face.

But since the words were typed anonymously instead of spoken, many have suggested ignoring and turning my head. How is that fair?

Bullies will not stop me from sharing my personal experience through writing — not by a long shot. The good that has come from sharing my struggles outweighs the cruelties. But that doesn't mean it's as easy as brushing it off and excusing their actions; that's exactly how we got into this mess in the first place.

No, I'm not that 9-year-old little girl praying silently each day on the way to school, hoping the bullies would pick on someone else that day. But I am that 25-year-old woman who still has feelings and expects more from humanity.


Patrice Bendig is a contributor to Huffington Post. XOJane, Bustle and USA Today College. Follow her on Twitter @Patrice_Bendig for more hilarity. You can read her other musings on her blog, Quarter Life Writings and view her portfolio at She can be reached at

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.