Published: GirlieGirlArmy (January 2, 2015)Liskula Cohen and Matt Rozsa
co-author: Liskula Cohen
This is the story of how I reclaimed my life. Unfortunately, to tell that tale, I need to first explain how my struggle started.
Back in 2009, right as the nation’s attention was beginning to turn to the problem of cyberbullying, I was the subject of defamatory attacks by a 29-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology student. Because this woman created her website anonymously, I had no way of asserting my legal rights, even as my high-profile modeling career – which had included appearances in and on the covers of magazines like Vogue, Elle, and Flare – was damaged by the lies. Instead of feeling powerless, I stood up for myself by suing Google to unearth her identity. After a Manhattan judge agreed that libelous speech is not protected by the First Amendment, the website was taken down and victims of cyberbullying won one of their first landmark legal cases.
You may notice that I have not mentioned either the woman’s name or the details of her attacks. I have done this for two reasons:
- Practically speaking, identifying this woman and the specifics of what she said could increase the likelihood that material involving her actions will appear on Google searches of my name. Since many of you will be understandably curious, I will mention that her attacks consisted entirely of misogynistic slurs. Aside from that, I hope you will respect my wishes (especially if you’ve ever been the victim of false rumors) and not help further circulate her cruel lies – which were found to be baseless in a court of law – by trying to dig them up.
- This is not the story of the woman who bullied me. This is, forever and unchangeably, MY story – and how I took control of it.
After the Google lawsuit I took a long hard look at my life. I knew I had accomplished something really positive and was proud of myself. At the same time, I couldn’t stop wondering: When is my life going to be about me and what I need? The personal gratification of my lawsuit didn’t last long, but many scars remained. I found myself hiding from the internet, avoiding telling people my real name (not out of embarrassment but from a desire to begin a fresh new life with no questions to answer), and getting sick to death of talking about it. Even though I have never met anyone who has told me face-to-face that they disagree with what I did, I badly wanted to start over.
There were two things I did know: I wanted to be a mother and I wanted to leave New York City. Hence, after visiting my parents’ home in the Sunbelt on Thanksgiving 2010 and thinking “I could live here,” I threw caution to the wind. On January 6th, with all of my worldly possessions stuffed into luggage, I left the city I had called my home for nearly a quarter-century.
I have always loved the sun, so my decision made sense in that respect. Even better, I didn’t know anyone other than my parents in the area, so I had to start off at square one. The challenge excited me; I knew that I was strong, smart, and independent, so I was confident that I could do this. A new life stretched out ahead of me.
Thanks to my experience in fashion, I received an offer from a man in the optical industry who asked me to help him with a bold business venture. The company, called FrontRowEyewear, is an e-commerce site that sells Rx glasses and sunglasses. I buy the frames, conduct research on the online optics industry, and manage development of the website.
While this is how I reinvented myself professionally, there is one individual responsible for helping me rediscover myself as a human being – my daughter. It was excruciatingly difficult for me to love or trust again after the Google lawsuit, and having a child completely changed that. Words cannot express how much she means to me: Her smile is intoxicating. I am blown away by her intelligence, by how quickly she learns. She has given me a new lease on life, instilled in me a sense of renewed purpose, and inspires me every second of every day to be the best mother I can be. FrontRowEyewear may have given me a new living, but my daughter made me want to live again.
As I settled down in my new life, though, I would see reminders of the past in the news. In my former hometown, New York City, there was a gay Rutgers student who committed suicide by jumping into the Hudson River after experiencing homophobic cyberbullying. Several time zones away, in Tucson, AZ, four teenagers killed themselves in 2012 due to cyberbullying. The statistics were sobering: In 2011, the National Crime Victimization Survey found that 9% of students from 12 to 18 reported being cyberbullied; two years later, the Urban Institute revealed that 17% of students had been victims of cyberbullying. The numbers were even higher for young women, 23% of whom reported to have been bullied online (more than twice as high as the 11% figure for young men). Experts also better understand the often devastating effects of cyberbullying, such as “lowering self-esteem, increasing depression and producing feelings of powerlessness.”
That’s another reason why I’m reemerging: As someone who was a very public victim of bullying, I hope that my story can comfort and encourage others who are suffering from bullying right now. I want to remind them that, no matter how bad things may seem right now, things can get better. You can’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and, just as importantly, you must be strong enough to remain your own person, to not let yourself be defined by the hurtful words and actions of people in your past.
I can say this because it has worked for me. A new phase in my life has begun and I am eager to come forward with a new Liskula Cohen. There are opinions that I have on a number of social, political, and cultural issues – many of them unrelated to cyberbullying and stemming from the experiences I have had since 2009 – and I am eager to see what I can contribute to our online dialogue about them.
Five years ago, I reclaimed my life. Now I am reclaiming my voice.