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In the movie Mean Girls, Cady Heron moves to a public school for the first time from Africa. Two outcasts take her in and become her friends. But when Regina George, the most popular girl in the school, asks Cady to sit at her lunch table, Cady obliges. Cady and her two outcast friends quickly devise a plan. Cady will pretend to be friends with Regina and her two best friends, but she will go back to her original friends and tell them all the stuff they do. The plan backfires, however, when Cady becomes more and more like the popular girls every day. She cares too much about her image; she goes behind backs to get what or who she wants, and she even blows off her original friends. Being popular, as Cady realized, has costs and can turn you into someone you never wanted to be. People who become popular or are considered “high society” have major character flaws, and society today promotes flawed character all the more.
To worm their way into the “popular crowd,” people will do whatever it takes, often not caring about what happens on the way. People that make their way into that “popular crowd,” usually have traits that would bring them to the bottom of the food chain if other people could see past the glam to who they really are. Girls, especially, get popular by flirting, pretending they like everyone, and looking pretty.
You don’t see the problem with people on the quest for popularity yet? When you’re pretending to like everyone, even people you can’t stand, you’re lying to yourself and to others. This, in turn, leads to gossiping behind their backs about how you really can’t stand them. “Popular girls” can be superficial and mean, but no one wants to confront them about the flaws in their character. The girls with the status also have the strength and resources to destroy people’s lives.
Girls at the top of the social food chain, especially in high school, have lots of friends. But the definition of a friend has changed in recent years. Many people look for someone who they can tell all their secrets too, knowing they won’t tell anyone else. But when you’re popular, your friends are more than likely just hanging on for the benefits. By hanging out with you, they become “high society” as well. Which means the friends of popular girls would do anything to be in their favor and to bump them up a status level. These kind of friends become resources for the popular girls.
Society in general does not help this issue. We are taught from the time that we were little, that we should be nice to others so everyone will like us. This means, even if we don’t like that person that sits next to us in math class, we hear our mother’s voice in our ear telling us to treat others the way we want to be treated. But this could be just as hurtful as letting that person know you don’t like them. Giving false pretenses about who you like and who you don’t leads to gossip behind people’s backs.
If nobody cared what other people thought of them, we would have no “popular people” dictating our lives and sometimes the quality of them. Teenagers wouldn’t be spending their hard earned money on the newest “it” bag, or the jeans that all the popular people have. The purpose of high school in the first place is to get good grades to go to college, but it’s become something much different. Homecoming King and Queen contests, Prom candidates, and student council president elections turn into popularity contests instead of fun events to take a break from schoolwork.
The quest for status hasn’t just infected high schools around the country though. Everywhere we go, we see models with perfect bodies, Hollywood stars, and ads for breast implants, muscle enhancers, or the new fad diet. Society is pressuring everyone to achieve impossible standards. When people can’t handle that pressure on their own, those people turn to drugs, eating disorders, or even suicide to help them deal with that immense pressure.
Social classes themselves began in ancient Rome, when clay-like materials were found and used to make vases, jars, or bowls. People with the most possessions, like these clay pots, were considered to be high society. Today however, it has expanded to much more than possessions. Some parents in China still practice feet binding, so their daughter's feet won't grow, because Chinese society views tiny feet as a sign of beauty. In the country of Mauritania, young women are force fed fatty diets totaling up to 16,000 calories a day, four times the daily calorie intake of male body builders. The men of Mauritania consider rolls of fat and stretch marks to be sexy, so girls are sent to camps to eat all day with no exercise in order to be suitable for marriage. The pressure to achieve high status, in whatever form it may be, is not just a problem in high schools or in America. It's a problem all over the world.
Status and resources can extend even to politics. In 2006, Parade Magazine ranked Omar al-Bashir the world's worst dictator. In October of 1993, Omar al-Bashir appointed himself to President of Sudan after previously becoming Prime Minister, Chief of the Armed Forces, and Minister of Defense. As he gained power, al-Bashir destroyed rival political parties competing against him in further elections. In 1998, al-Bashir and his Presidential committee announced an addition to the constitution, prohibiting most opposing political associations in hopes of increasing his own supporters. There are many reasons dictators come into power, and many reasons why they aren't taken out of power. The main reason why no one will step up for themselves against dictators is because of the resources they have. For conspiracy, their administration could drain your finances, hurt your family, kick you out of the country, or have you put to death. Control over power and the resources that come with popularity can hurt others both emotionally and physically.
Doing good deeds for the wrong reason can also help people to achieve status, or in the following case, get into a good college. High school kids hoping to be accepted into the best college pad their applications with good deeds. Deeds they have only done to look like a well-balanced, genuinely good person. This is the kind of person colleges want to have running around their campuses and being displayed on brochures. The good deeds most high school kids do are done half-heartily and are only done to benefit them, when they should be doing good deeds to better our world or someone else's life. Why would you do five activities, only putting a little effort into each of them, when you could do one activity that you love and put lots of effort into it to try and create meaningful change?
The quest to be popular in high school can start you on a journey up a slippery slope. You want to be in power, the one who is friends with everyone, but also the one who can do whatever you want because you call the shots. People who want it all in society today can make life miserable for others, especially when they take it too far, like Tom Petters or Denny Hecker. Extreme lifestyle changes to become good looking, finding power in a political position, and taking religion and twisting it so it serves you instead of you serving the higher power you believe in, and doing right things for the wrong reason are just examples of how personality traits can become major flaws in character and also in quality of life for yourself and other people. Richard Marcinko, a former United States Navy SEAL said, “Popularity is not leadership,” and he's right. Anyone can be popular, if the right steps are followed. But to be a leader, someone people look up to instead of someone people have to go along with, requires personality traits not found in the power-seeking popular people. These traits include honesty, being inspiring to others, intelligence, integrity, and dedication. Instead of trying to be popular, challenge yourself to be a leader in today's society. Someday you may find that the popular boy or girl from high school is looking up to you for a change.