Sunday, September 12, 2010

Popularity means hanging out with people who make you happy

I think most kids want to be popular, but I don’t think it means that they want accolades or attention. I think they want to be popular because it is an affirmation that they fit in…that they have friends. Let’s face it eating lunch by yourself in the cafeteria is not a great experience.
Amy Ignatow’s debut novel, filled with humorous back-and-forth notes and sketches of her characters’ plans and desires to become popular, is in a similar style of author Marissa Moss’ “Amelia” books and author Rachel Renee Russell’s “Dork Diaries.” The book really hits the mark on the daily life of two fifth grade girls who are best friends. They partner up and research the successful characteristics of the popular girls at school. The project is called “The Popularity Papers, Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang” Their approach is smart, study their subject and emulate them…a sure shot, they think, to the path of popularity. They discover it isn’t so easy and when they do achieve part of their goals, the popularity circle is not what it is cracked up to be and they almost lose their wonderful, quirky friendship in the process.
Reading the “Popularity Papers” brought back many memories of my desire to fit in and how hard it was to break down those social barriers my peers built against me. Basically I wanted to have friends. I moved into a new school district when I was in second grade and already there were strong clichés. I was not a shy child and I was bound and determined to make friends. I figured if I targeted the most popular girls at school and got in the group I would be free and clear…accepted. It wasn’t easy and for most of the year I ate by myself at lunchtime.
One day during recess, there were a group of popular girls playing jump rope…Thwack, Thwack, Thwack…the rope repeatedly hit the asphalt pavement. I watched carefully to see how they performed their jump rope routine and asked them if I could join in. The lead girl of the group told me NO, so out of spite I would just stand and watch. Every school day I asked and every time I was denied and I stayed and watched them. I guess you could say I was also stubborn. But eventually I gave up, but not the desire that I could be just like them…pretty, gregarious and always dressed with trendy clothes. I was neither of these things. I didn’t know who I was or happy with myself.
As I struggled to conform to these girls’ image, my parents were committed to keep me away from conformity. In 6th grade, I wanted to color my blonde hair black because I thought it would make my blue eyes stand out and my peers would suddenly see how beautiful I was. My mother absolutely denied me this opportunity. So as an alternative, I cut my hair. That was a real disaster. I tried to cut it like the Farrah Fawcett 70s hairstyle; instead it ended up being uneven shag. That brought me down lower in the social ladder. It wasn’t till high school, that I finally came into my own and embraced my strengths and found others who were likeminded. I eventually found my own brand of popularity and was very happy.
I would have loved growing up to have had best friends like Ignatow’s characters that were funny, smart, tenacious and best of all loyal to each other. If I had friends like these, I would have really appreciated those qualities that made me unique. Ignatow’s message is to be true to yourself and soon you will attract friends who will share and appreciate your unique traits and make you happy. To quote one of the girls’ oldest sisters, “Your friends should be the coolest people you know.”
By the way, decades later, the popular girl that did not let me play jump rope with them…apologized to me. Seems like all those years of snubbing me, wore at her conscience for many years. It is proof I think that there is a life after school and people do eventually grow up.
Though those were tough times for me growing up, however, I do not regret it. I grew up to become more sensitive to other’s feelings and was more determined to achieve my goals despite the obstacles. I grew up to become a strong woman who respects herself and others. It was worth the long journey, I think, toward “Social Improvement” and “General Betterment.”
Read Ignatow’s book, I will guarantee you will feel better about yourself.
Checking out,
Mrs. V.

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