*This blog was written in response to reader request
In Schools, Colleges and University’s all over the world, teenagers have to undergo extreme daily pressure to look, dress, behave, act and talk in a certain way, or face being thrown right to the bottom of their schools societal hierarchy. It is a dangerous world past the iron gates, and everyone knows who is different, weird or doesn't fit in.
I played a cat and mouse game for a very long time, being the one who stood out as 'unusual' and awkward before I joined in 'the cats' and experienced what life is like with so-called respect and popularity...
I moved to where I live now when I was 7 years old, and I wasn’t exactly what you would call ‘socially skilled’ or in any way equipped for what I was about to face at proper school after home education and steiner. The biggest culture shock I found was how everyone seemed to be in a certain friend ‘group’ and there were groups that people were daunted by, and groups that people liked to tease. I had absolutely no idea on this earth which group I was going to fit into, and until this day (8 years later) I still seem to be a bit of an ‘outlier’.
So, I tried to distinguish what characteristics allowed you in the ‘popular’ group, and what meant you landed at the other end of the stick. The 'popular' boys played football, were athletic, and the girls were all pretty with long hair and skirts just slightly shorter than the others. This may sound very stereotypical, but it’s true – for the guys becoming sporty was one of the only ways to escape the pressure, and for girls there was a very particular way of looking and dressing which attracted attention and recognition.
I tried the short skirts and long hair, but I also tried the complete opposite – cut off all my hair and got a bob (and wore trousers to school!) it was not very well received. Eventually I decided to go along with it, and became one of those girls who weren’t in the ‘elite’ but still conformed to what needed to be done in order to fit in. I did this for a very, very long time. Probably all the way up to Year 8 or 9. Of course I did have my moments of glory where I became close with the girls I looked up to as idols because of their popularity and Facebook profile likes – hell I even got over 200 myself once, and I also had my moments of being not so favored by the other kids in my year. However, although I was willing to look and act the part at times, when I was invited to parties where everyone would be drinking, smoking and doing drugs I wasn't interested.
Thus this brought on teasing, and eventually I just stopped being invited – which was a good thing, although my ‘social status’ seemed to be permanently capped by it, which was annoying as I wasn't up for ticking the boxes of ‘funny drunk’ or partier. This may appear to be a little too ‘stereotypical’ and hard to believe, but honestly TV shows do a pretty good job of representing high school.
A lot of the 'popular' girls liked to gossip. Gossip can very quickly turn into bitching, and what was once a conversation about someone dying their hair can escalate to a ‘piss taking’ session about their weight, height, boyfriend, friend group and social media posts. I’m not proud to say it, but I started taking part in these conversations, and it seems that girls do it in an effort to feel better about ourselves and our own insecurities (by pointing fingers at someone who has them too), and it’s also a bit of a power play. With boys (from my observation) they can gain status by being aggressive, particularly good at sport and by acting over confident, and for girls it is the same but our aggressiveness comes from our words, what we say and who we know. I used to ‘join in’ with bitching, but it only took a year or so in a group where this was how we spoke to each other before I started initiating it, and 'bitchy' was a confirming title to be called. And this was something that could make a mouse become a cat and gain kudos (sometimes in the form of fear!) within the year.
These are just a few of the examples of what it meant to me to ‘fit in’. Pretty horrendous, hey. Reading back through this it does sound pretty negative, like you have to fit in or ‘face the wolves’, but this blog was not designed to scare you or frighten you into becoming a long haired ‘bitch’ or a football jock, it’s to show that there seems like a lot out there trying to suffocate you, but there’s a lot more to life and college than that.
The OTHER side of the story
Year 9 was a pretty intense year for me. When I started college I realised the friend group I was in just wasn’t for me, so I spent some time ‘climbing the ladder’ and found myself friends with some of the ‘popular’ girls, but as you might expect after reading this story thus far – it did not end well. I believed that the best form of security would be to become one of the ‘bitches’ – when you’re feared people dare not attack or tease you (both of which I’d been before), but within in school when you're attached to your place in the hierarchy of things, you have to put a lot of effort into sticking there, otherwise you end up defending against your so-called ‘friends’ in a different type of war. I have very personal experience of this, for a period of time I had a decent social life – guys would message me, I was invited to parties, some other girls asked me for style and relationship advice etc. etc. But getting that kind of attention comes hand in hand with a lot of eyes, a lot of looks and a lot of questioning, and some of the girls became uncomfortable with who I was talking to and what I was doing – and this came out in huge dramas.
I kept acting in a way that was totally and utterly not myself; even my best friend picked up on how I changed persona with different people and different groups… I felt pretty empty, and established that this kind of life really wasn’t for me. What I then began doing was trying to find a group and people that didn’t pressure me into being someone I didn’t want to… What was funny is that I ended up full circle back to the group I was in at the start of Year 9… I had changed, they had certainly changed and it became the most supportive place I could find.
Why I felt so much more comfortable with these people is that they didn’t pressure me into being a certain way; I wasn’t around an environment of gossiping and bitching, nor did they accept it when I bitched and gossiped about others – to them it was an awful thing to do, and in contrast to before they gave me bad looks for doing so (rather than ‘egging me on’). If I were to zoom out and look at my place in school, I wouldn’t say I have a particular ‘friend group’ or category. I’m friends with a lot of people from a lot of different groups – and I like it that way because it doesn’t limit me to having to be a ‘plastic’ (as they’d say in Mean Girls), or sporty, or a hipster, book nerd, ‘emo’ or any other label. Yes I still feel the pressure of fitting in but it’s MY CHOICE to be who I am, and when I claim my decisions then the things other people say have so much less power.
How to deal with the pushing and pressures is not to see it as this huge monster telling you that you MUST do this or it will eat you up, it’s to see what’s behind the pressures… That everyone – and I mean everyone – has their own insecurities, and it’s likely they are only teasing you because someone else teased them and they don’t know any different. That said - the one thing you must not do is take it. Stand up for yourself, who you are, and do not for a second think that being a jock, bitch, hipster or nerd is going to make you any ‘better’ than you already are.
Something that really helped me, is speaking up about the pressures at school… I found that once the guys in my year got to around 14 or 15, they became quite offensive towards girls as part of their own game to fit in and impress; someone once said they’d love to rape me, and I’ve been asked numerous times for pictures, a blowjob etc. but instead of conforming or being a part of this I expressed it to my family, friends and teachers and it was addressed.
In instances now where friends start being horrible to someone else, I don’t allow it. It may not feel like it sometimes, but standing up for what you know is right and respectful lands you in the best position in school. And I think what you’ll find, is that there is a surprising amount of people in school who only do what they do because they’re going through the same thing, and will be relieved to see you and notice someone not afraid to stand outside the norm.
School should not be designed to only produce A Grade performers and actors – you should leave feeling confident in yourself, that you’ve learnt who you are and not who others want you to be.
All of the blogs on From Our Eyes have been written by young people. They are about the kind of issues and problems teenagers face on a constant basis, as well as worldwide epidemics that not only youth, but EVERYONE experiences day to day.