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Good-Bye North Shore, Hello Me MAG
Though this may sound absurd to some, not owning a pair of $200 jeans at my high school is as rare as someone boycotting Facebook. And I'm not talking about just one pair of expensive jeans for special occasions. I'm talking about a heck of a lot of them.
For years, I had a preconceived notion that I was so immersed in my affluent Illinois North Shore community that I had to conform to the materialistic standards of those around me. I thought that without the purses, shoes, and all the other “essential” items, I would not be as pretty, smart, or important as my peers.
Walking into my high school as a freshman, I held hopes of attaining top social status. As clichéd as it sounds, I figured the easiest way to survive high school was to do everything I could to fit in. So I became a cheerleader, assuming that the girls on the squad, the uniform, and the reputation would boost my ranking. I bought knock-off designer purses and pretended to enjoy the gossip my friends thrived on.
I had created an alternate personality, and it was working. I felt popular, accepted, and important, and I loved it. As it turns out, sticking to this pretense probably would have been my best bet to sail through high school with few worries.
But, as with most teenagers, I had my parents to contend with. They couldn't understand why I was pretending to be someone I wasn't just to impress others. They tried endlessly to convince me that I was hurting myself. For two years, I fought them, saying that they hadn't grown up on the North Shore and couldn't grasp what it was like living in a town with values opposite to those I was raised with. I believed I had to conform or I would be miserable.
I didn't bother questioning my assumption – until the best day of my life. I couldn't tell you exactly when that was, but one day I looked at myself in the mirror – looked beyond the makeup and the product-filled hair – and saw someone who wasn't me. And that person, she was miserable.
So I quit cheerleading and started swimming again, something I had loved for the eight years before high school but had bumped from my list of priorities, thanks to my North Shore influences. I also landed a spot in my school's top vocal performance group, took an active role in the youth ministry at my church, and devoted myself wholeheartedly to community service.
I wrote articles in my school newspaper that questioned the materialistic principles of many kids at my high school. I threw my white, rich, North Shore attitude (as well as any dreams of $200 jeans) out the window. I started pushing my limits academically, which I had previously considered less important than maintaining my social status.
I found a new group of friends who supported me, unlike my old friends. And I did all of these things not just because I was passionate about them but because I no longer needed to impress others. I looked in the mirror and was proud, regardless of whether I was cool enough to be voted Homecoming Queen.
Starting over was hard. People at school looked at me like they didn't know me. But the truth is that they never had. The risk I took in completely changing my life was flat out terrifying, but I am so grateful I did it.
As ready as I am to say good-bye to the North Shore, it's thanks to that materialistic culture that I eventually woke up from the hollow life I was living. Now I am not afraid to try things that scare me, because I have made mistakes in the past and learned from them. I am a confident, nerdy, religious, talented, optimistic, sensitive, musically inclined perfectionist. I know who I am.
My future now is just as unsure and terrifying as my experience in high school, but I am ready to go to college. I'm motivated to explore even more of my potential as a student and a member of my community.
If I falter or lose my way, I can always look back and be inspired by how I took one of the worst situations of my life and turned it around to create something beautiful. That beautiful something is a life with meaning, a life with happiness, and a life that fits me.