Friday, February 17, 2012

The Problem with Popularity

Even back in elementary school, all the books and movies I saw seemed to be about popularity. Apparently all schools had this rigidly structured populatrity pyramid where everybody knew their place. All schools except for mine. I thought it was because we spent most of our time in relatively small groups. When you only have thirty people, it's hard to create several cliques organized in ranks or coolness. I thought that I'd see popularity once I hit middle school.
In popular culture, the qualifications for popularity seemed pretty designated, at least for girls. Let's use Sharpay Evans of High School Musical as an example.
Sharpay Evans
Blonde, check. Pretty, more or less. Rich, check. Involved in school activities, check. Relatively stupid and mean, check. Height? She's only five foot three. (That's how Ashley Tisdale can play a high school girl at age twenty-one.) Excellent fashion sense? Check. Exists in the real world?
Sure, there will always be blonde girls, rich girls, and mean girls, but we don't worship them.  I'd go as far to say there is no popularity system. When I couldn't find one in middle school, I asked an older friend if they exist in high school. After all, they have cheerleaders and football teams and basketball teams and drill teams.
She said no. "There are your friends, the people you know, and the people you don't know."
So it's more of a target than a pyramid.
Of course there will always be people with bigger circles of friends, people who seem to be on everybody's "people you know" list. Then there are the people who are just well liked.
But they don't usually follow the Sharpay stereotype list. Cheerleaders have their targets just like everybody else, except their inner circles will contain a lot of fellow cheerleaders. As for the rich brats (as well as the median income brats) not too many people want to hang around them.
So what are the real  "popular" ones like?
They look just like everybody else, well enough groomed, and they don't usually stumble into fashion disasters. They don't have to be immaculate when it comes to clothing. I knew one such girl who showed up to school on an average day in pajamas. It's wasn't weird, it was just her. What draws attention is their persona-how they carry themselves, what they say, and more importantly, how and when they say it. They're always casually confident. They have a certain undescribable something, a knack for getting things right. Anything they say sounds intelligent, funny, or simply appropriate for the situation. When somebody else says the same thing, it may seem stupid or just normal.
You can replicate it to some degree, the key is to be confident. But it either comes naturally or not at all. No amount of lip gloss or popularity books can supplement.

Note to Betty Cornell: Teenage is one word.


  1. Great writing, very insightful. I think you're right. At our local high school I don't think popularity is an issue. But it certainly was at my high school back in the day. Just ask your mom, or your dad.

    Keep writing!