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I still have my dork moments, but I generally think I'm pretty cool. Pretty
comfortable with myself, pretty happy with my haircut. Fun friends, interesting
plans, spiffy clothes, the occasional cute
boy, even. If I were in school right now, I might even be popular.
Back in seventh grade, things did not look so promising. Especially not
BG's huge thick heinous glasses.
This week, let's focus clearly on the "P" word. Because more often
than not, there's no "u" in
See, I had started a new school that, at first, might as well have been a
country where no one spoke my language or looked like -- or at -- me.
Nerd Girl so did not belong. I watched in awe as the Popularinas picked up
sticks and just knew how to play, like in "Fame," where the
music starts and everyone in the cafeteria just knows the song. How did they
do that? I remember sitting at my desk creating a chart called
Friends," with a "+" column and a "-" column. As in
"+: talked to Allison Sweeney for five minutes on lunch line," or
"- No one is wearing ribbon barrettes anymore!!!"
No wonder I felt like a loser.
Did I like those lacrosse amazons? Not necessarily. Did I want to
like them? Badly. They seemed to have all the power, glamour, and glory
(also, coordination). All the Popular Accessories: cool clothes, fab fiestas,
dope dudes. (They gabbed all the time about boys they knew, and there weren't
even any at our school. How did they do that?). They were never alone
in the halls, never bored on the weekends. They were The Establishment. They
were never invisible. They belonged.
So believe me, all you Freaks
and Geeks and whatever else they call you these days, I know: wanting to
be popular can feel like a matter of social-life or death.
If you were Popular, would you be automatically happy? Would your life be
totally perfect? Would you be set?
Not even on television.
In the pilot of the new WB series "Popular" (not bad, but it's no
Freaks and Geeks!) here's what you hear the school princess (Brooke McQueen)
(Brooke McQueen!?) think on her first day of school: "Everything
I've worked so hard for is happening. Isn't this the part where I'm supposed
to be happy?" As in: she's totally not. Because here's the thing: yes,
Brooke -- and her real-life counterparts -- have worked hard. At
popular. Popularity: it's not just an adventure, it's a job. Full-time.
Requiring constant maintenance of The Right everything: the fiercest fiestas,
the buffest boys (right, gemini wunder?), the coolest
the most excellent extra-curriculars. Result: on the outside, Brooke looks
-- well, okay, she's way too thin -- but on the inside, she feels empty.
You should also check back in with Lonely Lizzy
B -- two brilliant, sympathetic voices behind the
Faces in the Clique -- who show you not only that their world is still
but also that it's not all all Darth Popular: The Dark Side. They remind us
that "popular" does not automatically mean calculating, vapid, and
evil. (Got that? You guys who give Popular its bad
There are popular for-the-right-reasons -- small "p" --
people who are genuinely liked and respected (at least by people they like and
respect), comfortable with who they are and wherever they are in the teeming,
stifling, cruel high-school-as-Calcutta caste system. Not to mention -- labels,
schmabels -- there are popular freaks, popular geeks, popular everyones. Which
is the middle-hallway I hope Insecure About Something
will find a way to walk down. And which is why I bet a lot of you proudly
to last week's front page quickie quiz -- Which are you? Freak
/ Geek / Popular" -- twice.
Wait, so how did those -- well, we -- twofers get that way? Somehow
we found our niche, moved in, set up shop. Me, I became a chorus and drama
which I did not make up just to have a corny metaphor for/embodiment of the
notion of "finding my voice." Sat up straighter, breathed deeper --
to parties both "cast" and "beach."
So what's your Glee Club? You tell BG. Something that will occupy
give you confidence, make you feel visible, even in small -- but cool --
Something better to do than wishing things were different. Someplace better
to belong than some invite-only clique. Even: somehow realizing that your
posse is already good and plenty.
(One Don't: don't just Be Nice and suck up and cross your fingers (a) hoping
that They'll like you, and (b) lying that you like Them. Just ask Friend
Corny as it sounds, developing your Self, not your Status, is what lasts.
Popular-Bots (big "P") are on auto-pilot. No brain, no gain. But if
you're the ringleader of your inner clique of 1, you have got to get a little
more creative: explore, challenge, think. Which is great. That's exactly why
you always hear about fab celebs who -- much like one lacrosse-challenged
-- used to feel like rejects from the Cool Factory. (Which, I know, may be
as compelling a point as models swearing they eat three cheeseburgers a day,
but still.) That is why I say: sooner or later, you will find your place. And
ribbon barrettes will be back.
Just so you know that your letters -- and not just TV -- inspired
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