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The popularity equation.

Be honest--who doesn't like to be liked? Last spring, we got tons of letters from girls asking us to help them be more popular in school this fall. Here's our battle plan for pursuing real popularity--and why you also might want to think twice.

"The whole popularity thing is almost kind of silly. No one is really better than anyone else."--Amy, 16

"It's fun to be popular because of all the attention from guys and everyone wants to be you--but is it worth it? Some times you need someone to talk to, tell your secrets to, someone to trust."--Chole, 14

"Being popular requires honesty, courage and kindness. In short, all the features of a friend."--Trenice, 12

"I used to be popular in the sixth grade, but I got tired of it. I'm now a dork...and loving it!"--Michelle, 15

Ok, straight up, let's get this out of the way: The whole deal with popularity just isn't what it used to be. After all, it's 2003, not 1950--girls no longer have to raise their cool quotient by fake-smiling until their cheeks explode or accessorizing the perfect head-to-toe prissy pink ensemble before prancing out to the bus stop in the morning.

True, it can be good times when you're that "it" girl at the top of the social heap, envied by others who dream of having your rockin' life. But here's the thing: Popularity can be fast and fleeting at best. At its worst, it can be shallow and meaningless.

For most girls, the real victory comes not from having the top spot at your caf's primo lunch table, but being tight with a few close buds who treasure you for who you really are.

While we know you'd never trade in your true-blue crew for a few golden moments as a ninth-grade goddess, there are very few girls who can say they don't want to be, well, just a little more liked by everybody. There's no denying there remains a certain mystique about popular girls--like there's a special kind of pixie dust sprinkled on these chicks.

Last spring, we asked girls around the country what their goal was for this coming school year...and an overwhelming number of them responded, "To be more popular."

While we realize that, to many girls, this really means "have more friends," it did get us thinking. What are the special qualities that make a girl more popular? And what can the rest of us learn from popular girls about friendship and being someone other people just plain want to be around?

After GL interviewed hundreds of girls--popular, not so popular and somewhere in between--we came up with seven secrets to social success!

POPULAR GIRLS ARE...OUTGOING AND FUN. This might be a giant "duh!" but let's get the obvious out of the way. People like to be around people who put off a happy vibe.

When you're out there and involved in activities, you become interested and interesting. "I think the more fun stuff you do--clubs, youth group, whatever--the more popular you'll become," Denise, 15, says. "You'll find a lot of girls have much in common with you."

POPULAR GIRLS ARE...SMART. It's a total myth that not caring about your studies makes you seem like you're all that. "To be popular at my school, being smart is a quality you must have," says Katy, 14. No mystery here. Doing well in school shows you've got it together and want to go places in life--which earns you props from others.

POPULAR GIRLS ARE...TRULY NICE. In the words of Jen, 15, "I am popular because I am good at helping other people feel good about themselves. I do it naturally, genuinely and immediately." What an awesome concept. And so true. When people sense that you really care about them, like by always taking the time to say "hi" and ask how their day is going, they can't help but like you. You've proven you're considerate, open and interested. While girls such as Jen might have a natural talent for engaging others, we can assure you that it only takes an extra second and a little bit of effort to reach out to at least one girl each day.

POPULAR GIRLS ARE.. TRUSTWORTHY. What does it mean to be a trustworthy friend? Well, for one, it means when you make a promise, you stick to it. It means zipping your lips if a bud swears you to secrecy about something or confides in you about a problem she's having. It also means being honestly thrilled for her when she wins the school spelling bee. As Ivy, 13, shares, "I'm really popular at my school. Why? I think it's because I am really understanding. I think that's the reason other girls always trust me with their problems and joys."

POPULAR GIRLS ARE.. NATURAL LEADERS. "Some of the most popular girls at my school are always the ones who are organizing or heading up something. They are just doers," remarks Laura, 15. We couldn't agree more. Putting yourself and your talents out there is the mark of a true winner. If you feel comfy taking charge, why not make this the year you volunteer to be features editor of the school newspaper or whatever? People will take notice.

POPULAR GIRLS ARE.. ATHLETES. OK, we've already told you how you shouldn't be afraid to flex your smarts in class. So don't hold back on the soccer field, either. A typical comment from a sports-minded reader: "In our school, the popular girls are mostly jocks, like me. Why? We respect ourselves and don't hang out with druggies or other people who don't respect their bodies." Being good at sports doesn't make you popular in and of itself, but many girls tell us it's a highly respected plus. Plus, girls who play sports, in addition to being team players, get a healthy dose of self-esteem, which is way attractive to other people.

POPULAR GIRLS ARE... CONFIDENT Here's the biggest thing--people love being around people who feel good about themselves! Most girls agree that feeling great about who you are is the single most important quality you need to be popular.

Readers say working a combo of the first six social success secrets goes a long way in giving you a confident attitude--and they're absolutely right. Having "attitude" doesn't mean being snobby or acting like you're superior to others. It means being a great person who likes and respects people-and deserves to be liked and respected in return.

What else works? Having faith in your ability to tackle whatever life throws your way, being optimistic, and liking yourself deep down. Putting all of the above into practice should draw friends to you faster than Ruben pulled votes on American Idol.

Oh, and one last thing. If you do achieve that popularity princess status you've been striving for, don't let it get to your head. Or we'll have to come over there and take away that tiara!

RELATED ARTICLE: OH, STOP IT!

THINGS THAT SHOULD NEVER MAKE A GIRL POPULAR

One of the questions we asked girls is, "What makes a girl popular at your school?" We got some great answers, and we got some answers that, well, just make us want to scream. If you think the following things make a girl popular, clue in--they don't. It might appear that way but, take it from us, these things don't make anyone a better friend...or a better person.

A HOT BOYFRIEND Some girls reported dating their way into the popular crowd. Eww. Using a guy just to be popular is fleeting at best, tacky at worst.

TALKING SMACK Skip the gossiping about your rivals, OK? While you're at it, also put the kibosh on cuffing people down just to make yourself seem more important.

COOL CLOTHES Wrapping yourself in Abercrombie does not make you a player. It's what's inside that counts.

BEING SUPER PRETTY Hel-lo? Glossy hair does not make one a better person.

INTIMIDATION We don't dig chicks who rule by fear. Memo to mean girls: People should want to hang with you because they like you, not because you bullied them into it.

HAVING BIG BOOBS Like clothes and hair, looking more mature than other girls does not make someone a nice person.

BEING THIN No matter what shape or size you happen to be, if you've got it going on, you've got it going on.

BEING A CHEERLEADER What is this--1960? Bring It On aside, cheerleaders aren't all about popularity. They're hardworking athletes who deserve respect for their talents! Let's give 'em the credit they deserve.

THE WARNING POPULAR GIRLS WANT YOU TO HEAR BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!

Sometimes, being popular can turn out to be a massive bummer. We heard from many popular girls who say life at the top Isn't always as breezy as it appears. Do you really want to deal with the downside? Ask yourself the following questions before you set out to raise your profile with your school's popular peeps.

Can you handle the pressure? "I am not going to tell you being popular isn't fun," says Charisse, 15, "but it's really stressful. Everybody looks up to you and watches every single thing you do. I feel like I can't have an 'off' day. I make a mistake, and everyone is shocked and disappointed that I'm not Little Miss Perfect. Even the teachers expect more of me because I am popular."

Can you juggle a lot of buds? When you're hot and in demand, friendship resources can get spread mighty thin. Maybe you prefer just a couple of good buds, and find maintaining too many friends to be way demanding. Says Taylar, 14, 'Because I am friends with a lot of people, I feel like I have to be as friendly to everyone as they are to me. That takes a lot of time and effort. Frankly, at times, it can be exhausting. I feel like I have no time or energy for myself and what! want to do."

Will you have to act all fake? If the girls you're out to impress aren't into the real you, their approval is so not worth your time. You should never have to act phony to keep friends. Amy, 13, backs this up: "There are times I just have to bite my tongue. Some of the other popular girls do things I think are stupid at best, self-destructive at worst. But I feel like I have to stay silent to stay popular."

Can you be an individual? Some girls worry that they can't risk their popularity by doing something the crowd wouldn't approve of--like, oh, wearing a different lip gloss. One popular reader tells us, "It feels like everybody's watching me, and I don't want to make a wrong move." Is it really better to sell yourself out, rather than set yourself apart?

Is being popular that important to you? If not, no biggie. Be satisfied with who you are now. As one girl puts it, "Some days I wish I was more popular, but then I think about how lucky I am. I don't need to change to be someone else--I only need to be me. I am popular enough."
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Author:Mulcahy, Lisa
Publication:Girls' Life
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
Words:1881
Previous Article:Stop sweating the small stuff.
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