I have three daughters. I am happy to have three daughters. We didn’t have a third to try for a boy, though a boy would have been great, too. As preschool teachers often chant, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Genius.
But with my houseful of ladies, I admit to a terrible foreboding feeling towards the bumpy years ahead when other people’s opinions become paramount. For Lu, that storm is a brewing. Right off the coast, I see it forming. Should make landfall soon. Here we go.
Popularity is suddenly on her radar. Within the last few months it’s become a frequent topic. Usually to inform me that she is not popular because the popular girls are, from her description, girly and flirty, of which she is neither. For a while she didn’t care, but now it’s having consequences. One of Lu’s best pals no longer laughs at her jokes, acts silly at recess, picks her in gym. All interest has shifted to the cool group and Lu’s heart is hurting.
My first instinct was to corner the cool group and give them the “what’s up” on the precarious nature of 4th grade social standings. But I may have trouble securing a badge at the school office with “shake down” as my agenda. Instead, I gently offered Lu the same advice I rely on when feeling vulnerable and self-conscious. Because I still feel vulnerable and self-conscious. A lot.
“The way people treat you is less about you and more about them.”
Trust me, the popular girls, and those desperately seeking membership, have the same fears and insecurities you are starting to recognize. Perhaps even more. And these thoughts of inadequacy, unfortunately, will appear and reappear throughout your life, for all kinds of crazy reasons. Then I told her that her mom will always think she’s the coolest kid in town and that was probably my least impactful statement.
How would you describe your history of popularity?
My first impression of popularity and its undeniable magnetism was in 3rd grade. I had a friend who would play with me one day, then another girl the next, and we would fight over her constantly. I tell you, the girl was kind of a dud (I think of her and I see overalls) but the competition factor made me quite possessive. I wanted to be liked – more. My teacher lectured me several times. I think parents were called. It wasn’t a big deal. The teacher was a dud, too, and I moved on.
Fourth grade was a great year. My popularity took a major turn for the terrific. By 5th grade I was voted captain of the safeties. I had popularity tucked neatly in the pocket of my knee-worn corduroys.
Ooooph. Then came 6th grade and the merging of three elementary schools. A whole bunch of better dressed girls arrived on my scene. I wasn’t ready for mini skirts and teased bangs, lip gloss and neon fingerless gloves. I didn’t just drop a few rungs on the popularity ladder, I fell off of it. Landed in prickly bushes. I spent the year riding my bike to school, hanging out with teachers, playing in the creek ’til dinnertime and wearing round-toed all-leather white Nikes everywhere every day.
Seventh grade offered some improvement. I started to care about my appearance, permed my hair and pinned it up on one side. Asymmetrical = always fashion forward. I wore Esprit coordinates and Forenza sweaters backwards. Backwards = confusing to most people especially grandparents.
By 8th grade, I found my groove and was cast as the lead in the middle school play. That was big time cool and despite the fact that I was loud but not particularly good at singing and wore ugly turn-of-the-century period costumes, I managed to catch the eye of a lowly stage crew member (Jon) who I dated (held hands with in the hall) for two whole weeks.
Ooooph. Then came 9th grade. I’m not good with transitions, apparently. Didn’t like it one bit. Tenth was better. In 11th, I started dating Jon (again) and his friends became my friends. I don’t regret much in life, but I regret giving up my group for his. It was a silly girl move that turned my well-liked status into a near invisible existence spent mostly in Eric Lebby’s basement. Playing video games. Jon, who has always enjoyed much-deserved popularity for being a nice guy to everyone, somehow kept his favorable social rank and possibly picked up a point or two.
Seasonal side note: I can assess my summer popularity in a single, short paragraph. I “lived” at Flourtown Swim Club seven days a week from early morning until dark. My dad was the manager and my mom ran the snack bar. I was considered popular because I was always there. Always. And I could get you free french fries.
I cruised through college in the familiar semi-popular state that works for me. Not hated, not adored. Since then, I just strive to maintain. I guess the desire to be liked is a forever thing and worrying about how you measure up is constant. There are times I meet someone or face a new experience and the fear of being a let down, to myself or to others, is enormous. But if you roll with it, it will roll away.