Just Because I'm A Confident Woman Doesn't Mean Your Words Can't Hurt Me

by Zara Barrie

It was 10:30 am on a glorious Sunday morning. I woke up to the sound of the sweet September breeze blowing through the air and the sun beautifully beaming through the bite-sized window of the little bedroom of my little Upper East Side apartment.

I was mildly hungover, but it was a lovely, "I only had four glasses of champagne, don't think I made too much of a fool of myself and clearly remember the cab ride home" sort of hangover -- an innocent hangover, the kind you read about in drugstore novels and watch in romantic comedies.

It's the hangover that just leaves a subtle taste of sparkling wine on the surface of your tongue, in which you're slightly cloudy in the brain, but not racked with the irrational fear that the contents of your life are crashing into a million broken pieces.

Inhaling my vanilla-scented-candle air, I stretched my arms up to the ceiling and bent my body over to my phone, which I had, for the record, dutifully placed on the charger the night before.

As I began scrolling through Instagram, my eyes averted themselves toward a comment on a picture of myself from the night before. It was a stupid picture of my roommate and I gazing into the reflection of the silver-gilded mirror of the flowery bathroom in the hotel bar we were partying in.

Our eyes were glittering with champagne bubbles. We were authentically smiling, and I was clad in one of my favorite get-ups: a revealing black romper with a black boyfriend blazer lazily thrown over it, taupe Jeffrey Campbell Chelsea boots, soft smoky eyes, a matte nude lip and wild hair.

My head had been teeming with a healthy, sparkling wine-induced buzz when I had posted the picture at 1 am, thus I had captioned it: "Embarrassing, Shameless Mirror Selfie."

Oh, the wonderful art of the "buzz" right? You're self-aware enough to know you're being wildly narcissistic and madly cliché, but bold enough to do whatever the f*ck you want anyway.

I scrolled to the lone comment beneath our picture. It was from a girl whose name I didn't recognize. For the purposes of this article, let's call her "Chelsea."

Chelsea had something to say.

"The only the thing embarrassing about this picture is your 12-year-old-boy body. GROSS. You're a stupid, anorexic, c*nt, and all of you're articles SUCK. I hope you rot in hell, bitch."

At first I laughed. A little too loudly, if you know what I mean.

And then I felt like as if I had been kicked in the gut.

Grant me the opportunity to disclaim: As a female writer on the Internet who incessantly expresses her raw feelings regarding the sensitive topics of feminism, emotional discontent, heartbreak and sexuality in an honest and open way, I've definitely experienced an avalanche of Internet bullying.

I’m an outspoken girl-creature who can't help but twist her lips around the truth, a hyper-opinionated female who has an irrepressible tendency to speak her mind, an unstoppable fighter of social justice since my sandbox days -- so naturally I've experienced adversity and confrontation for as long as I can remember.

Maybe it was the subtle sting of vulnerability lurking beneath the surface of my mild hangover, or maybe it was because I was so thrown off guard, but for whatever reason, on this fine Sunday morning, my feelings were inexplicably, sorely crushed.

So I did what all codependent 20-something girls who still may or may not be trapped in adolescence do: called my mother.

She picked up on the first ring.

"Oh hello, darrrrrling," she answered, her stern English Accent cutting through the phone line.

I could hear kitten purrs, and "The View" softly playing out in the background.

I lamented to her about my hurt, desperate feelings, the kind of feelings that can only be remedied by maternal validation.

"Oh, get on with it, Zara," my loving mother coldly replied. "You're a bloody BARRIE woman," her English accent clipping with an extra emphasis as she cited the family name. "And BARRIE women don't get hurt."

She hung up. The harsh dial tone penetrated my delicate ears.

I threw my feather-filled comforter over my head, suddenly feeling cold and small and sad, the familiar shards of shame pricking me.

I couldn’t believe I had allowed such a stupid Internet mean-girl-troll to temporarily take a hit at my self-esteem. Was my confidence so frail that one stupid comment could knock me down?

I exhaled into the safe haven, that special place that exists deep beneath the covers, and willed myself back to sleep.

But her comments had uprooted a deep-seeded insecurity buried deep within me. Because before I knew it, I was in the throes of an anxiety dream.

I dreamed I was at a high school party in a big, teeming backyard surrounded by a white-picket fence so high that it brushed up against the tops of all the trees.

I was smoking unfiltered cigarettes with a group of skater punks dressed in distressed denim and obscure band T-shirts. They were skinny and sickeningly pale and ignoring me.

One was cracking open beer bottles with his razor sharp, shark-like teeth. Another had a mohawk. He was staring at my body as wicked beams of evil radiated from his rat-like, beady eyes. His skinny, pimply hands were suddenly all over my body, which I realized was blazingly naked.

The boys began to touch me, telling me it was okay because I looked like a boy. The hands were getting bigger and bigger until I was nothing but a tiny speck inside a massive, boy hand.

I woke up cloaked in a panicked pool of sweat. After a few deep breaths of recovery, it struck me to the core.

My dream was directly connected to Chelsea's comment on social media.

Yes, it was a stupid, trite little comment that I should have blindly ignored. Yes, we live in an age where cyber bullying is the norm. Yes, I don't know Chelsea and therefore shouldn't care what she thinks of my body.

And most importantly, yes, I'm a confident woman who vehemently speaks her mind.

But that doesn't mean I'm not sensitive to hate.

Chelsea might have been carelessly tossing out a nasty comment from behind the protective screen of her laptop, but I wonder if she realized the words she chose were directed at a girl who has battled (and continues to battle) the uphill climb of a negative body image.

I wonder if she knew I had an eating disorder in high school and spent my entire junior year restricting my diet to a dangerous 450 calories per day. I wonder if she knew the stress and body hate was so deep that I didn't get my period for an entire year.

I wonder if she knew I had once been called boy because of my sexuality, and it made me feel disconnected from femininity and set me down a dark, destructive path of broken identity.

Of course she didn't know those things. But people seem to think if you throw yourself out there, you're somehow immune to hurtful slurs and hate-fueled remarks.

Just because we are women who attain the courage to speak our glorious minds, just because we are secure in our identities, and just because we have the wherewithal to express our opinions about the world does not justify being tossed into an ocean made up of bullies.

Do we really want to accept a world where being called a “c*nt” is just what goes “hand-in-hand” with being a girl who is expressive and outspoken?

So my fellow sisters who sport opinions, don't feel ashamed for not being numb to the slew of atrocious words being thrown in your direction. The reason you have opinions is because you're not a numb robot. It’s because you're a human being with feelings.

And to all the bullies residing in the stratosphere, while your words may hurt us, they will never, ever scare us into silence.