Best Not To Be Popular In High School

Good news for most of us – about 98% of us, anyway. It’s best not to be popular in high school.

After following the lives of six outsiders and one self-proclaimed “popular bitch” cheerleader, that’s Alexandra Robbins verdict in her book, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.


Well, what is popularity?

Oddly, “What the kids call ‘mean popular’ and ‘nice popular’ are actually what psychologists are coming to call ‘perceived popular’ versus popular,” says Robbins. “The kids who are perceived popular—the kids who are considered the top of the social hierarchy—they’re actually not very well liked, but they’re viewed as being socially successful.”

So part of the reason it’s best not to be popular is that people often don’t actually like you.

Perhaps that’s partly why high school status is not necessarily aligned with happiness. Popular people might be happy and they might not. Also true of geeks. But in fact, Robbins insists the so-called popular kids are often a lot less happy than the other kids in school.

That makes sense. When the minds of “mean popular” kids are full of misery – as in making others miserable – how could they be filled with happiness or joy?

But there’s more. Being popular requires fitting in. Cookie-cutter, mindless “groupthink” tuned toward conventional style. Lacking your own thoughts and opinions. Being pretty boring. Pretty and boring, that is.

Then there’s the focus on fashion and gossip. Fulfilling? I think not.

In an interview with The Washingtonian, Robbins declares, “Popular kids don’t necessarily know who they are because they’re so busy trying to conform. It’s the outcasts who are more attuned to who they are. They’re more self-aware, more real.”

Adolescence is a struggle between individuality and inclusion. “Nonconformity is a wonderful trait, and it’s going to be valued in adulthood,” Robbins reflects. “If you’re different in school, that makes you an outsider. If you’re different as an adult, that makes you interesting, fun and often successful.”

Original thought and expression will take you much farther, ranging from more interesting friends and conversation to creative, enriching, and contributing work, whether in business, science, academia, media, or the arts.

Lady Gaga is Exhibit A. Always one to express herself, she did not fit in, was not popular in high school, and was once thrown in a trashcan. But look at her now!

Not-popular people of the world, unite, and be proud.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 27, 2012, in psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. I agree with what this article says, and I’m a big believer in the unpopular girls eventually having the higher advantage and success in life.

    When I was dealing with the dynamics of popularity in elementary, middle, and high school, I always told myself that I was much better off being my own person. I never sought popularity, maybe because the most popular girls never gave me a chance to witness all of the benefits of being popular. My best friend in elementary school became a popular girl, but her group excluded me from their games. I was very heartbroken, but I kept telling myself that my independence was a very important tool that many of these popular girls lacked. It is very important for girls to know that their voices and feelings are worth expressing, and that sometimes it is more correct to not follow the status quo. I often wondered if my peer ever did feel happy in the long run, even though she kept her popularity intact through high school. She must have felt the need to keep up with her superficial beauty and status that I could not relate to, which originated from feminine stereotypes. Many people in my graduating class knew me and liked me, and it didn’t matter that I was not in the same league as my ex-friend. I projected myself as someone who can be liked for my personality and intelligence, while my ex-friend was always regarded for her beauty and modeling experience. I always thought I was liked for better reasons. Despite how I didn’t expect to be excluded from popular girls when I did, I consider that a blessing because I had the better chance of discovering my interests and identity without worrying about how other people viewed me. Being on the “outside” allowed me to say “no” to group ideas (such as drugs) that would have been harder if I was in the popular “crowd.” I didn’t need an entire class to build a reputation, and I tried to become a role model to my peers who also wanted to break free from the drama.

    Both women and men have a right to show their differences which can help promote change for the better. The popularity dynamics that are usually present in “girl world” make young girls feel compelled to be exact copies of each other, which is only stalling contributions to change from women instead of encouraging them. Therefore, I believe in the last sentence of the article, “Not-popular people of the world, unite, and be proud.”

  2. Looking back now, popularity in high school is completely overrated. I was not popular, I was just an average student who played volleyball and did well in school. I did not go to all the crazy parties my classmates threw, I worked instead. After seeing the more popular kids on Facebook, I saw that some of them dropped out of colleges they went to and came back home to do some of their work at community college because they partied to hard and failed out of their school. Yes, there is a lot of pressure in high school, both on the popular and regular kids. However, the popular kids need to conform to what their peers deem acceptable. The regular students can be whoever they want to be and not have to worry about the repercussions of their peers as much. When you get out into the real world you don’t need to be popular so much to rise in your career. You’ll have to be a good person, hard worker, successful, and nice to get to where you want to go.

  3. Popularity isn’t everything in high school, nor it is important. In my opinion I believe that presentation is key. For myself high school was really fun and enjoyable besides the academic part of it. For example I joined many clubs that reached out to several individuals everywhere in school whether it was for performing arts or clubs such as the anti-tobacco club. It was really good for me to engage myself into school and make new friends because I didn’t really find myself popular to begin with starting off in school. But what I did see in high school were a lot of clicks and a lot of people who look at certain kids who thought they were popular. What I saw a lot in school throughout my four years in all was that there was always a huge click of kids who were looked at as popular people, but they only new that certain crowd but never really got to know other individuals throughout the whole school. Going into high school, peers and teachers encourage students to engage more with people in school, but what majority of the students end up doing is that they create a cycle of not being diverse with others and only interact with people that they know they can get along with or doesn’t hang out with certain individuals cause of the differences other students may have. So overall I think popularity isn’t really that important nor should it identify a certain portion of what high school is about. I think everyone is popular in their own unique way and its sad because students create this talk about popularity and also create clicks therefore makes high school a hard place to interact because of the discrimination students cause for themselves and for other students who want to maybe fit in or just be excepted. I also believe clicks in high school are a big problem in any type of school because it just separates everyone and everything and either makes high school horrible or a bad experience. So I think students should be more open minded and not center there social life on a certain group of people and should really engage with one another and make a new friends and create a cycle of acceptance.

  4. Not being popular in high school is more beneficial than being popular. The definition of “popularity” is constantly changing from one stage in life to another stage. For high school students popularity is measured based on how many friends they have, how do they dress, and how much power they have to intimidate other kids. After high school, when they enter the society as an adult, they will be forced to accept that popularity is about being nice, successful and helpful to other people not about being mean and cruel. Popular students that used to be obeyed by other kids in school will be having difficulty to adjust to social popularity standards, while other kids do not have to face same challenge. Therefore, I think it is better to not be popular in high school.

  5. I think people don’t need to be popular in high school; people don’t need to make everyone around you to like you. What you really need are some true friends. Also, like the article claims that if people want to be popular in high school, they need to change their personalities in order to fit in different groups, so I don’t think any kind of change or fitting in will bring you happiness. It is really important to be yourself, whoever wants to be your friends with real you are your true friends, and they are always the reason of your happiness. I totally agree with this article because no being popular in high school will also bring you best friends and happiness.

  6. While reading this post, all that kept popping up in my head was the movie “Mean Girl” with Lindsey Lohan. In the movie, they were definitely perceived popular, but they were known to be hated by many. Now, to be fair, my experience during my high school year wasn’t even close to being that bad. Yes, we did have the generic popular kids who did sports and was very athletic. Something that set our school a little different was that there were also popular kids who did sports, drama, choir AND had perfect G.P.As. They themselves didn’t think they were popular, but they were sometimes more liked than the perceived popular kids.

    This post also mentions that being original was look down upon during high school and when they grew up, original people were interesting. I agree to this to a certain extent. I believe that people like lady gaga for her songs and vocal talent, not really her crazy antics. But I guess I lack original mindset.

  7. The article reminds me of my own personal experience in High School with the various cliques and “popular” kids. I once had a friend who changed because she got caught up with the idea of being popular and she even admitted that to me later on. I felt like I couldn’t even say “hi” to her because her new friends were intimidating and didn’t believe that we were previously best friends. They were not the nicest group of people because they never allowed new people into their social clique and very rarely ever talked to any “outsiders.” I wouldn’t say that they were unhappy though. For the most part they seemed quite content with themselves, but that doesn’t mean that other groups can’t be just as happy. I wasn’t considered “popular” but I never had a problem with anyone and I enjoyed hanging out with the people who liked me for me. I wouldn’t want to change myself just to be considered “popular” because in all reality, it’s just a label and ten years down the road it won’t matter anymore. Nobody is going to remember the name of an individual who didn’t have a voice and that’s what those cliques seemed to do; they restricted people from becoming an individual. I have always said, “If we were all the same, then life would be boring,” and I firmly believe that. Who wants to be a fly on the wall? Yes, the peer pressure may be difficult to overcome, but at least when High School is over that person who didn’t conform is going to have a much easier time entering the real world. This is because they became an individual, and decided to put themselves out there rather than hide within the massive crowds where they may or may not be seen.

  8. I agree with these suggestions regarding popularity. In high school, many kids are so concerned with their popularity status that it influences every decision they make. Yet, once at the top of the totem pole, what is there? Friends that are jealous? People who despise what you have become? In my opinion, being a “popular” kid in high school, does absolutely nothing for an individual. There are no popularity contests or competitions in the real world, where you have to work for a living, in stead of worrying about how many friends you have. The kids in high school that worry about their future, instead of their outfits, are the ones who develop their personalities based on who they are as an individual, instead of who others want them to be.

  9. I’ve heard of this idea before and I believe it is definitely true. I’ve noticed a lot of cases where the popular people in high school didn’t end up having satisfying lives later and where the unpopular people in high school prospered later in life. High school is a time when you are rewarded for conforming and punished for revealing your individuality. It is a time when everyone is discovering themselves but are afraid to be different from their peers. However, as this article explains, conformity doesn’t mean much and isn’t valued at such a great amount after you get out of high school. Popularity is often only skin-deep while self-awareness goes beyond that and is usually considered more important when you are beyond your teenage years.

  10. This was a really interesting topic and I tried to think back to what it was like for me when I was in high school. I was never one of the “popular” kids but I do remember some of the people who were and it seems like in my high school the popular girls were very much the stereotypical mean girls who thrived on being cool, having the newest clothes and electronics and making sure that they were on the top of the social ladder. The guys on the other hand seemed much more laid back and genuine. I knew a few “popular” guys that were not jocks or the best looking guys but they were popular because they spoke to everyone and they were funny. You couldn’t help liking some of them simply because they were genuine unlike most of the girls. I think a lot depends on the school that you attended and both the idea that some girls thrive to be pretty and accepted in the high school social world while many of the guys were popular for simply being themselves and happening to have a lot in common with a wide arrange of people.

  11. Popularity should not be a priority in life. I agree with this article and the fact that popularity is not worth much. Individuals strive to reach this point of social status from the time they are in middle school and throughout high school. If you are constantly worrying about how popular you are or wish to become, you will constantly deal with rejection, drama, gossip, and other unnecessary issues. There is nothing wrong with being different, which is this article’s message. Being different means individuality and individuality is what will get you places. The ability to be yourself, especially under the pressures that exist in high school is an admirable thing. If you live your life worrying about the number of friends you have, looking a certain way, and trying to be part of the ‘in crowd’, there will be nothing left of you. You will completely lose yourself. You have to be able to be yourself and present who you are confidently. You will find that people will be more accepting.

  12. Sarananda Osheim

    This article was very similar to the organization of social groups at my high school. I was an ‘outcast’, but I loved it! The popular kids at my high school were always targeted for rumors, gossip, and confrontation. Never once did I idolize their position. I think one damaging aspect was they exclusion of people. Other social groups, including mine were accepting to anyone hanging and joining in, there wasn’t any judgement. I value my time as an outcast because it allowed me to be an individual.

    I think its interesting that people still want to be popular despite the negative stigma associated with the title. Media especially encourages this stigma. Teen movies almost never portray the ‘popular’ kids as the ideal role model, they are always mean, tease, and attack innocent ‘outcasts’. Youth see how negative popularity can be, but still strive for it, it’s almost like they WANT to be outcasts too.

  13. After reading this article I realized that it pointed out true facts. I for one was in same way or form an outkast and it showed in my grades because I was receiving A’s and B’s and one C (in French class). The fact that I was not focusing on the latest school gossip or the craziest party made it easier for me to find other interest than underage drinking and made me stronger because it showed me I was fun without drugs and alcohol. I also noticed that I spent less money on clothes even when I worked over the Summer, I always had money for liesure activities. Most girls in my school focused on how to look the hottest and to get a guy attention, while I was into school and bettering myself for me not for other people. Great article!!!

  14. Although I see being popular as a good thing, mostly because fitting into society has generally been conceived as a good thing, I can see now how it can also be a bad thing. Society expects people to fit in, that’s why there are trends, bandwagons, and multiple t-shirts representing the same band; because, when people fit in, it’s easier to make categories, and to place people into these specific categories. I was never what people would call “popular” in high school, and when I think back and remember how much time I spent wasting trying to fit into the popular crowd and how much I spent trying to get them and others to acknowledge the fact that I was trying, I find it ridiculous. I am much happier being the person I am, the person society told me not to be, than being someone I am not. No one likes the fake and seemingly “perfect” people for very long. They phase in and out within society, but the people who strive to be themselves (such as Lady Gaga, for example, and Helena Bonham Carter) tend to make a lasting impression on people for much longer and in a much more positive way.

  15. I totally agree with the article, being popular sometimes can have disadvantages. It can make you feel invincible, and lead you to make stupid mistakes. You don’t have people’s honest opinions, just hangers on agreeing with everything you say. It can make you cocky and think you know everything, then you lose touch with reality. While most unpopular people hate the popular’s, I’ve known a good handful of the popular kids back in high school who are just as sweet and caring than most other kids in school. But when it comes down to it, we really don’t’ have a choice if we were popular or not. It just happens.

  16. I immediately wanted to read this article because I have witnessed it first hand. I remember back to middle school there were always a “popular” group of girls who everyone wanted to emulate and be like. And unfortunately, I had my share of going out and buying the name brand clothes they wore just to try to fit in. But I remember meeting new people who were so much more independent and didn’t care what people thought of them, and it really inspired me to be myself, and stop succumbing to the stereotypes and trying so hard to “fit in” when we were all really born to stand out. The world would be so boring if everyone in it was the same, wore the same things, talked the same way, did the same things, etc. there would be no diversity. And diversity is what makes the world an incredible place. So I can definitely see why popular kids in school might not be happy, because they are trying so hard to be what they think they should be, just to be thought of as cool, when instead they should be doing what makes them happy and trying harder in school to go places in life. “Being cool” is overrated, everyone is cool in their own way, and it’s about time the Popular kids unite and realize that!

  17. Now looking back a couple years to my time in high school, I am starting to see how those individuals whom did not conform are now being appreciated for their uniqueness. I have always thought it to be strange that in high school the girls who were “mean popular” were considered popular. It never made sense to me. When people who refer to that group of girls as the “popular girls” I would always have to remind them that they are not exactly popular, but rather very “unpopular.” I liked to call them “the plastics,” as a reference to the movie “Mean Girls.” I had a friend in elementary school whom I ended up going to high school with. She never conformed and she always had a different way of expressing herself. Because of that, people thought that she was “weird.” And me, being the lost adolescent that I was, felt as though I could not be friends with her anymore or it would hurt my social life. I was very very wrong for thinking that and have made amends with her. She is incredibly intelligent and I know that she will be successful. If I could go back, I would have changed how I went through high school in a heartbeat.

  18. One of the main things children need in life is to be accepted and have some kind of attention. In Psychology we learned all about the Nature Nurture effect and how key it is to a human’s survival. Being human, we all need to be nurtured–we need attention. It’s completely understandable that children, teenagers, and yes, even adults need attention and many find attention in several different ways whether they are negative or positive.

    Popularity in high school is something we all go through. There will always be that one cheerleader, jock, or whatever that will always be admired more than the average high school student. I agree with this post because sometimes the popular high school kids don’t always go that far and yes, most high school popular kids are going through something that causes them to “dictate” the social high school world. However, we ALL go through something that causes to act or behave a certain way.

  19. There is a lot of pressure on High School kids to fit in. I think wanting to be accepted is a big part of being a teenager. Who wants to spend their lunch alone watching the other kids laugh at them?
    I think there are different types of popular kids in school. Some are known and loved by everyone because they are good natured and open minded and others are shallow and downright nasty. Being a former High School outcast I can say that being different does help build character and independence into adulthood, but there are also some negative consequences that come with not fitting in. Being bullied, laughed at and questioned by the popular crowd feels terrible and can have lasting negative physiological effects on a person.
    As an adult, I worry less about what people think because I’ve been there and done that already! Fortunately being popular gets less important as you age but I have found that you still can find pockets of popular high school girl syndrome in certain social situations like the work place or PTA meetings.

  20. In my opinion I think it does not matter if your popular or not, like this article states that popular kids are less liked. Most times popular kids have it rough because they go through so much trying to be popular by trying to maintain this image and by also constantly trying to impress others. I also think there is different types of popularity, for instance you don’t have to be the most handsome looking and have all the cool new material things but people just simply like you for who you are. During my high school day I couldn’t tell if I were popular or not because I hung out with a variety of people and was among different cultures daily.

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