In every season in my life, I've encountered a "popular crowd". Most of us know what I'm talking about and can probably still recall the names of their high school popular crowd. Maybe you were even a member. Maybe you still are. For a brief moment in history, I was a member of my middle school popular group and the lessons I learned still benefit me. If I had a teenage daughter, I'd be writing this blog for her.
Let's get personal, shall we?
I was a pudgy child. To make matters worse, I lived in a neighborhood of rather mean spirited boys who constantly made my weight known to me and others. As if I somehow forgot that I had fat rolls and really needed the reminder. In seventh grade, I decided enough was enough and came up with a brilliant plan to end the constant taunting.
I'd become popular.
After all, these boys were in the popular group and no one ever taunted them for their big ears or squeaky voices. Plus, the girls in the popular group never got teased for their terrible make up. They were untouchable and I wanted in.
Now, I believe that God gave me an awesome brain that observes every little detail and tends to never forget. This came in handy for my quest because I noticed one common trend when a new Popular got inducted into the group. Do you want the secret?
It just takes one.
One person to like you. That's it. Then the rest of the group follows.
Turns out, my theory was correct. There was a really sweet girl in my homeroom who was a member of the Populars. (On a side note - this girl was genuinely kind, pretty and a great person. She faded out of the popular group which suited her much better.) We both played saxophone in band (yeah, that's right. Because playing in the band is what makes you super duper cool.) and often chatted about our music. We became friends and one day she invited me to sit with her at lunch.
I'm pretty sure I don't need to tell you what an honor this was. Middle school lunch room politics seems to be a universal notion. Basically, everyone sits with their group, but in the popular crowd, we were also expected to sit based on our current popularity status. The Ring Leader sat in the middle, flanked by the inner circle. Then the peons sat on the end, straining to hear scraps of conversation until one day, they simply got bumped off the end and were never heard from again. But none of this mattered to me, I'd finally made it. Life was good.
And in my own little way, I really believed that. The teasing instantly stopped. The boys that once taunted now talked to me as did the girls who never gave me a second glance. I was invited to two parties - One at a Popular's giant house and the other held at a Popular's neighborhood clubhouse. Yeah, I was living the good life.
Well, kinda. I started noticing that things weren't what they seemed. First of all, getting into the Populars was easy. Staying in took most of my energy and a ton of my self-respect. I was expected to drop all my non-popular friends, which I did and to this day still feel guilty for how I made those individuals feel. I was also expected to look my best, which meant wearing make-up (I've never been a fan. It makes my skin itch), wearing the latest fashions (at the time, we were transitioning from wide leg pants to boot cut pants. I wasn't a fan of either.), and becoming thin. The thin part was easy for most Populars because the played a sport. I didn't, so I asked my parents to sign me up for soccer, which happened to be what all the popular girls played.
The biggest stress was simply saying the right thing. Any opinion that didn't match the Ring Leader was instantly met with disdain. This constantly bothered me since I was a very opinionated. But I'd say even with all these rules, there were two main moments when I knew that I wasn't on the right path.
The first was at the clubhouse party. It was a mixed party, boys and girls, and the conversation turned sexual. (Keep in mind that I was in seventh grade.) I know the parents were there, but I don't recall where or even if they cared. One of the boys made a rather crude comment about some sexual act that I'd never heard of and it occurred to me that I really didn't want to be there. I'd say that was a big turning point because even though I didn't have a strong religious foundation of morality at that point, I knew that we were way too young to be joking like this and that it was wrong.
The second moment, and the final straw for me, came when the group decided it was time to banish one of it's members, who happened to be a great friend. The two of us were friends since childhood and would continue out friendship for many years, but in that moment, the group wanted her out. I don't even know why or who decided, but somehow, it was declared and for some reason, they picked me to do it.
And the worse part? I did it. I treated her terribly until she stopped sitting at that lunch table.
I felt horrible and knew that the price of popularity simply wasn't worth it. I called her and took the yelling she gave, knowing I completely deserved it. Then, luckily, she forgave me and we both moved to a new lunch table.
The girl who brought me into the group also left the group, and like I said, she was a great person. She and I remained friends for several years. We even entered a music duet competition together. The popular group, for the most part, remained a click throughout high school, slowly inducting new members. One of those members got pregnant junior year. The boy who got her pregnant was at the clubhouse party. The group actually tried to get me and him to date but thankfully, I had enough sense to know better. In eight grade, another member of the popular group surprisingly confided in me that she didn't want to "do stuff" with her high school boyfriend. I told her "then don't", wondering what the big deal was. If she didn't want to "do stuff", she shouldn't and if the boy didn't like that, she should happily let him move on. Instead, the girl "did stuff". She didn't want to lose him.
I'm grateful that I got out of the group when I did and I had very rich friendships in high school and college because of what I learned from the experience. Peer pressure can be intense and I'm always thankful that God put me down that path, and even though I didn't have a relationship with Him at the time, I'm glad that he gave me enough fore site to know that it wasn't the right path. If I'd had God, and if I were telling this to my teenager daughter, I would take her back to that first moment when I decided to join the group and ask, why? Why does she think I joined? Sure, I didn't want to be teased, but why did the teasing bother me so much? Why did I care so much what a group of silly boys thought?
I lacked identity.
I didn't know what made me me. Meaning, I didn't have a strong sense of self. Of course, what seventh grader does? I didn't know where I belonged and I so desperately wanted to feel wanted. In hind site, I believe that's what motivated each member of the Populars. They were just as insecure, just as lost, just as desperate as everyone else. So where does our sense of self come from?
We are but mists in the universe, some tiny specks here one day and gone the next and yet....
God knew us before we were even born. He created us and loved us and put us on this planet, to be part of something much grander than ourselves. We are his children, his beloved. Think about how vast the universe is and how much goes on in a single second and yet....he's still right next to you. He doesn't leave your side and no problem is too great OR too small for you to bring to his feet. In this wide universe, he crafted every freckle, every wrinkle, every single strand of hair all for you. All because He loves you.
Now that's powerful. That's where confidence lies. It's through that truth that self identity sprouts. And the best part is, no one can take it from you. They can tease, taunt, push, tug, but you are His. Always.
That's what I want to tell my son. That's what I would tell a teenager daughter.
You are His.