There she is. All smiles and charm and wide gestures and tilted head. Sparkling eyes, loud-ish giggle. Great clothes, great style, great posture, probably great looking. Of course, you can barely see her because she is surrounded by what looks like a bunch of Secret Service agents, but you know she's there. Everyone does.
What good is "popular" if it goes against your beliefs, values or sense of self?
She is the popular girl. And while you may make fun of her, you and your best friend, when you are sure no one can hear you - how shallow or petty or fake she is, I'll bet that for at least five minutes every day, you wish you were her. Or at least, her best friend. Someone who slept at her house sometimes, tried on her clothes. Hung out with her friends. I'll bet it even upsets you sometimes.
So let's start being proactive, rather than sulking or speaking viciously behind people's backs. Let's try to crack open the tough questions about popularity, as I see them:
1. What is it that makes someone popular?
Many books have been written about this, but, in a nutshell, the answer is: self-confidence and the ability to make those around you feel like they are having the time of their lives.
Who is popular varies from place to place. In some schools, it is simply the best looking kids. Sad. Some places, it's the rich kids. Also sad. Other schools follow the more traditional "jock" model of popularity (especially now that it's also cool for girls to be jocks.) In some places, it's the student leaders - those whip-smart, future-district-attorney kids.
One teen told me that the popular kids in her school were the kids who got along with everyone - they were the ambassadors between the cliques, and they were crowned royalty for it. When I was in high-school, the popular kids were the ones who managed to be involved in the most activities, with a silver medal going to the people who had great clothes and big hair (it was the 80's, you know) and knew every word of every song ever played anywhere. The point is - these things vary from place to place, and from time to time.
But one constant remains: Popular people believe in themselves, and in their ability to influence their peers. You think that pretty cheerleader never had a zit? Of course she did. But she probably covered it with makeup. And if someone did comment on it, she probably shrugged it off, and made them feel like a loser for noticing.
More likely still, she probably pointed it out to everyone, and made it into Hallway Theater: "Look at this disgusting zit", she might have said, wrinkling her nose, "it is sooo gross, it's like a city. I was like, God!! Do I need a mask to come to school today, or what?" And, with a laugh, she has both demonstrated her self-assurance and been fun and entertaining in a situation which would have had many of us hiding in the bathroom for hours.
2. Are the people in your school popular for good reasons, or is it for reasons that you don't care about, can't achieve without sacrificing too much, or is it beyond your control? Is it really important to you to be popular, after these things are considered?
Let's say that you are in one of those schools where the popular kids are the rich kids, and your family just doesn't live on Planet 90210. Or let's say the popular kids are all beautiful, tall, and blonde, and you are a short, cute-but-average brunette. What if the popular kids are mean to everyone else, or shallow and condescending? Or what if your love is writing poetry and short stories and the popular kids can't write their way out of a beer can?
Forget it, I say. Find different friends. Friends who are kind, funny, "average", and have similar interests to yours. What good is "popular" if it goes against your beliefs, values or sense of self?
I'd like to hope that a fun, challenging, self-assured, talented, non-rich, non-jock, non-beauty can have lots of cool friends. If not, these "cool friends" are not worth your time. (And, as adults, they will not really be cool. Trust me on this one.)
Which brings me to my next point:
3. What steps can I take to become more popular, if I chose to be?
The key is to be positive about what you are, and cool about what you aren't. Are you really, humorously, clutzy? Make a joke about it. People hate liars and wannabes; they respect difference, usually, especially if that difference is excellent in quality, outspoken about it, but non-abrasive. (Daria is not a good example to follow, even if she is technically right.)
Also, pay attention to other people, to their cues. Are they laughing? Do they need to be? Ask them about themselves, entertain them. People love being complimented, as long as you don't overdo it. Think about how your nuances could change, just a bit, to make people feel great when you spoke to them.
In short: be interested and interesting.
And be you.