It's time for another one of Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop prompts. It's a topic I have considered writing about before but I always talked myself out of it. There are popular girls to contend with throughout our lives, but it's those popular girls from high school who leave the most lasting impression, and for some, the deepest scars. The thing that has stopped me from tackling this subject up until now is that I still live in the same city where I went to high school, and while my blog may look anonymous, it's not to the readers who know me. I could tell you this post is merely a general observation and any similarity to actual persons or groups is purely coincidental but I don't think anyone would believe me. However since this was a topic I had considered - over and over again - I decided that perhaps the prompt from Mama Kat was a sign that I should just go with it.
Sure, high school was a long time ago, but has it been long enough? (Hmmm, I wonder if this could be my ticket off of the reunion committee.)
Popular is an interesting term that we throw around when we're young. According to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions is "commonly liked or approved." That's not what it meant when I was in high school. As a friend recently described it, the true meaning of the word in high school is "the girls nobody likes but everybody wants to be friends with them anyway." Going with that definition, one of the greatest ironies about the "popular" girls from high school was the mind-boggling speed with which they lost their brand of popularity after graduation. These girls didn't seem to notice that they have lost what passed for popularity right away. It was a gradual process, taking place over decades.
Before I get too much further into it, here is my disclaimer: I was so far down on the social ladder that it took decades for me to realize that there were rungs on the ladder, so my perspective on the popular girls is viewed from that angle. I always understood that I was closer to the bottom of the ladder and that these other girls were at the very top but I thought there were a lot more girls at the top than was actually the case.
You see, there was a hierarchy to popularity that I totally missed at the time. Naturally, the "popular" girls were at the very top of the
Now I still don't understand how they achieved their place on the ladder's top rung, but it seemed to be a mostly self-appointed position. I think they were all cheerleaders, but all of the cheerleaders were not part of the Inner Circle. When we were in our 20s, one friend shared her theory about what they looked for before allowing anyone a position in the group. Her theory was that they were all members of the same country club. Make that The Country Club - none of the other clubs could compare. I actually kind of liked her theory because it meant the Inner Circle had a clear litmus test. Either you belonged to The Country Club or you didn't. It's not like they were relying on subjective things like personality, or clothes, or heaven forbid, intellect. No, if my friend's theory was correct, it wasn't personal. It was more like a marketing decision. They were protecting their brand.
What I didn't realize for many years was that the Inner Circle of socs was quite small - just a handful of girls - which may support my friend's "Country Club" theory. Beyond that, there was a small peripheral group. There were constant changes in the peripheral group as girls gained and lost favor with the Inner Circle. No one outside the Inner Circle could be expected to keep track of who was in, and who was out.
Beyond that peripheral group was a group that was genuinely popular, in that everyone pretty much liked them. Like the Inner Circle, they included a number of cheerleaders in their mix so they looked a lot like the Inner Circle, but they were not a group of girls anyone would associate with the term mean girls. These truly popular girls greeted everyone with a smile. They knew a lot of our names, no small feat in a class of nearly 500. From my rung near the floor, I assumed they were part of the Inner Circle - they were just the nice ones. I was nearly 30 before I figured out they weren't just the nice ones - they were a different group entirely, located higher than my most of my friends and I were on the social ladder, but not dangerously close to the top.
I began to realize how small the Inner Circle really was at our 10-year reunion, when they could be seated at a table for 10, including the spouses of those who were married. This was when I began to see the layers of socdom that I had never known existed. (Pronounced sosh-dom, I don't know if such a word actually exists but I like it and people instinctively understand the meaning.) It opened my eyes to the difference between the popular group that nearly nobody really liked and the popular group that nearly everybody really liked.
By the 20-year reunion, enough socs were married at the same time that some of the spouses were sent to other tables, but the Inner Circle could still be seated together. There were a couple of shout-outs to the "A" clique in the reunion directory that year, which was the first time a number of us learned that this was how they referred to themselves. The fact they chose to go by a name that insulted the rest of the class seemed to fit. On the plus side, one member of the Inner Circle used the directory to offer an apology for how bad the social cliques had been. I admired her for that, and began to wonder if perhaps there was hope for the Inner Circle, after all.
A few years before our 30-year reunion, Mean Girls came out and there was no doubt in my own mind that most of my class pictured the Inner Circle every time we heard the title. And this was when I began to wonder what it's like to be saddled for decades with a reputation from 3 years of high school that is so difficult to overcome. Did they realize their faces filled many of our heads whenever we heard Tina Fey promote Mean Girls? Even as I was starting to feel (a little bit) sorry for them, I often wondered aloud why they bothered to come to reunions at all since at the first two reunions, they had still stuck mostly to their A-clique friends. Wouldn't it be easier to just meet at a restaurant and forget the rest of us?
But by the time the 30-year reunion weekend came around, I was starting to think maybe I had never given the Inner Circle enough credit for the courage it must take to face people who don't have a lot of respect for the way they treated the rest of the class in high school. As I watched them at that reunion, I saw that they were trying harder than they ever had before. They were making an effort to talk to more people. It didn't always look like it came naturally, but that made me respect the effort that much more.
After the bad press from the A-clique references in the previous reunion directory, I had joked that they needed a PR consultant to fix their image. But the truth is that time and maturity go a long way towards changing people. They're not there yet. They still struggle to venture away from the safety of the Inner Circle. But after 30+ years, they're trying...
In recent years, I have come to realize that their exclusivity must have put the Inner Circle at a disadvantage in the real world. The rest of us learned early on that the top rung of the ladder is neither the safest nor the most desirable place to be. It was on the lower rungs that we made the friends who can be relied upon to support us wherever life takes us. And it was from those lower rungs that we learned not to be bothered so much by the older versions of popular girl cliques, wherever we find them.