What Popular is
I want to talk about being popular. What comes to mind when you hear the word “popular”? Everyone knows and likes them, they are always dressed with the latest trends, that usually means they also have a lot of money, they have a cool car and newest phone or gadgets, they hang out with other popular people, they may be on a sports or performing team, they’re invited to and host cool parties, they get a lot of attention, etc. And online they have a bunch of followers, maybe an influencer with sponsored posts, their pics and videos look perfect, they get tons of likes and comments. Doesn’t being popular seem awesome? Who wouldn’t want to be like that?
Media and Popular
Media loves to influence us with the pull of popularity. From the time advertisements were created, brands have sent the message that their product can make you popular. For example, when you see someone with a certain beverage cup, wallet, or pair of shoes, does the brand name evoke a status, like “they must be cool/trendy/popular”? See, marketing the pull of popularity works.
There are countless movies where the main character is popular, or even becomes popular during the movie. Especially during the late 90s/early 2000’s, many movies have a storyline that requires a girl to change who she is so she can be popular and/or get noticed by a guy – sometimes referred to as the Makeover Trope. Examples include Grease, She’s All That, Model Behavior, Never Been Kissed, Clueless, Mean Girls, A Walk to Remember, The Princess Diaries, even in the Broadway musical Wicked. These versions of a Cinderella story send the message that all it takes is a glow up to get to happily ever after, and rarely do they communicate the importance of authenticity and self-acceptance. And there are too many tutorials out there sharing How Tos for becoming popular, but don’t waste your time, they’re ridiculous.
The Problem with Popular
If you couldn’t tell, I see some problems with striving for popular. And if you happen to be popular, I’m not coming at you. Regardless of your social standing, I want you to reflect on how you feel about the idea of popular.
Why do people want to be popular? People want to be popular because the popular lifestyle looks amazing. Popular people are attractive and fashionable and they hang out with other popular good-looking well-dressed people. Who wants to be seen as undesirable or uncool or ugly or nerdy or frumpy? Often someone who wants to become or remain popular (in-person or online) has low self-esteem and doesn’t feel they’re good enough as they are. So they change who they are and how they appear, like how they speak and act, how they look and dress, their interests, hobbies, and activities. They post different kinds of photos or videos. They hide parts of their true identity and pretend to be someone else. They keep up this performance just to reach or maintain popular status.
And the main reason people want to be popular is because humans have an inherent need for acceptance by others. We want to be included. We want to fit in. We want to be part of a group. We don’t want to be left out or rejected or alone. This is a hardwired survival instinct from the Stone Age. Back then, your life depended on not getting excluded from your clan, because the sabretooth tigers would get you. Acceptance is no-less vital to people today, especially youth.
But the difference is, people in the Stone Age didn’t care as much about what others thought about them. That seems to be all that matters to youth today–who you’re friends with, how many friends or likes or followers or views or fire emojis there are. Some are desperate for acceptance, relying on external validation, needing constant praise and approval from others. They have a reflected sense of self, meaning they are unsure of themselves so they measure their self worth and view themselves how others see them. I know this all too well; it took me a while to care less about outside opinions, but especially when I was younger, all I wanted was to be accepted.
My Popular Story
Right before I started 6th grade, I moved to a new state. I didn’t know anyone when I started school, but I quickly noticed the cliques, the different friend groups. Slowly I started making friends and I bounced around groups, but for months I wanted to be friends with the popular girls. They wore trendy clothes, did their hair so cute, hung out with guys, everyone liked them, and they were always together and had each other. I wanted that SO bad. Toward the end of the school year, I don’t remember why, but the popular girls added me to their group. And I was on top of the world! And I wanted to stay in their group so I did everything I could to be like them – I dressed like them, acted like them, even started laughing like them (I literally changed the sound of my laugh). We stayed friends over the summer, but shortly after we started 7th grade, now entering middle school, I don’t remember why but I drifted from those girls and was removed from the popular group. Feeling excluded and rejected was hard. So I went back to bouncing around friend groups for another year. And then I became friends with a girl who was a ton of fun, she was hilarious, she was friends with a lot of different groups, she made you feel good when you were with her. She could be considered popular, but it wasn’t because she was trying to be, she was just a very likable person. I didn’t feel pressured to change myself to get her to be my friend. She liked me and accepted me for who I was, and I am very grateful for the friendship we had.
Instead of Popular, Belong
So if popular isn’t the goal, what is? How about instead of trying to be liked, we try to be likable? We take time to learn who we are and strengthen our character and sense of self. We embrace ourselves, knowing we have inherent worth and value. How about instead of caring about reputation, we care about relationships? We develop ourselves socially and emotionally so we can develop genuine friendships. We show up in the world with our uniqueness, colorfulness, quirkiness, even nerdiness. Because when you embrace yourself as-is, and your true friends also accept your authentic self, you’ll truly feel you belong. And that beats popular every time.
Dr. Brené Brown said, “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable and learn how to be present with people — without sacrificing who we are.”
Belong over Popular Poster Printable
To help you with this, I created a “Belong over Popular” for you to print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
The Cool Bean, by Jory John
Real Friends, by Shannon Hale (the Friends series)
Clash, by Kayla Miller
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Stargirl (book made movie)
The Peanuts Movie
Also, you can check out my Girls With Vision Board. This printable kit helps you identify, recognize, and embrace your individuality and believe in your dreams! Click the Shop tab on EmpowerfulGirls.com.
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