Popularity

Stand Up Straight

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DISCLAIMER:  I ❤ my high school classmates – Some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known grew up in the same little town I did. Loved them then, love them now. But I absolutely h.a.t.e.d. high school.  And now I teach high school.  Maybe I love it because I feel like I can make it little less awful for some.  Or maybe I enjoy the sweet redemption of figuring it all out now.  Either way, it’s all part of the most awkward, uncomfortable, confusing stage of development.  Nothing new under the sun.

 

“Stand up straight” is apparently what you’re supposed to whisper, like some weird form of Tourettes, to your self-conscious daughter any time she’s dressed up, in public, or otherwise already overwhelmingly preoccupied with her appearance.  And the automatic response of the daughter will always be…drumroll…the twitch/scoff/eye-roll combined with the deeper, more dramatic slouch, which translates from Cavegirl as “Leave me alone or I’ll embarrass you as much as you embarrass me.”  (“Ha!  Not possible!” –me now, as the mom.)

So why didn’t I?

STAND UP STRAIGHT joins my list of “Things I Would Tell My Teenage Self to Do Now That I’m Old and Know Some Stuff”, along with MOISTURIZE (even though super dry flaky skin is in during your teens.  sorry),  USE BOTH STRAPS on your backpack ya fool (even though no one will dare do this your entire four years of high school for fear of looking like a nerd…Thanks a lot, Urkel), and FORGET ABOUT BOYS…you’re not going to find yours here (even though your second grade teacher will officiate fake weddings for her favorite students, perpetuating the idea that marriage is your primary purpose in life.  somebody has to help sustain the population of small towns in Texas I suppose).

Here’s why I didn’t stand up straight.  I figured it out this week while observing slouching teenage girls.

Every school has cliques.  I teach at a very large high school now, and there are so, SO many.  Mine had two.  Cool, and Uncool.  The weed-out process is much easier that way.

In accordance with ancient law, Cool status could only be guaranteed to four girls and four boys – prettiest/richest girl and her best friend, cutest/richest boy and his best friend, and the top male and female athletes, and their best friends.  It’s the law.

An appeal can be made for special situations.  I’ll call this group Cool by Association.  CBAs can be promoted up from Uncool, but only while in close proximity to a Cool who acknowledges them, and only while properly cloaked in current brand names.  

Uncool included everybody else — musicians, thespians, lesbians, late-bus riders, super smart kids, fairly dumb kids, poets-who-live-in-trailerhouses, mouth-breathers, chubby boys with a sense of humor, and Wanna-Bes.  ( = girls who thought they were All That, when someone or something had clearly pre-determined that they weren’t.)

To this very day at high schools far and wide, the privilege of the Cools’ birthright comes with the responsibility to patrol and monitor the Uncools for confidence-levels deemed too high.  (Most Cools are born with eyes that can eradicate confidence.  CBAs can learn with diligent practice and imitation.)  Their primary targets are the Wanna-Bes, who tend to bring it upon themselves.  Trying a new makeup technique? – Side-eye with a hint of judgment!  Donning cutting-edge fashion? – Stare and pantomime holding back laughter!  Walking with confidence instead of staring at the ground in front of you? – Mimic, mock, repeat! a.k.a. Off with your head!  

The long-term scars are deeper than I realized.  I learned early on from these distinctions, that girls should NOT  have confidence.  Confidence equaled snobbiness.  Well-behaved conforming female Uncools, with ANY hope of becoming a Cool someday, are

  1.  not to accept compliments – discredit them as quickly as you can by immediately listing your flaws,
  2. not to stand up straight – if you walk with your shoulders back, you’re just trying to make people look at your boobs…big shirts, slouch, whatever, just hide ’em any way you can,
  3. permanently disqualified from ever fraternizing with the Cools if and when they decide to go past first base with a boy…in which case, you are granted lifetime status with the Sluts.  They live in eternal purgatory outside both cliques.  Sluts, lepers, kids with facial deformities, and fat kids with no sense of humor.  

So why, now, at 41, does it still feel awkward to adjust my posture, head up, shoulders back, core lifted?  If you haven’t read Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, by Maya Van Wagenen, based on her 8th grade diary, you should.

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And when you get to the chapter about poise and posture, you’ll find yourself thinking about your posture, holding your chest up like a precious jewel is resting atop your beautiful breasts.  And it’ll feel nice.  And it’ll also feel like you’re trying to be something you’re not.  And that is why my mom was doomed to fail, trying to convince me to stand up straight and present an air of confidence.

And what’s so wrong with trying to be something you’re not?  To think you’re perfect is snobby, right?.  Thankfully, as adults, Cools and Uncools look a whole lot alike.  We’re all dressing ourselves now, we live in towns where our last names mean nothing, and there are very few athletes left.  We are grateful for ANY AND ALL compliments we receive, we admire each other’s confidence, and we’re all working pretty hard trying to be something we’re not – moisturizers, Pilates, (or Pilates cheap’n’easy cousin, Spanx), caffeine, repeat…We’re all just trying to recreate our high school selves, but this time with more wisdom, confidence, and kindness, and less drama, AquaNet, and junk food.

Also, I tell myself “Stand up straight” at least twenty times a day.  Moms know.

Other notes to 1990s Angie from the future:

  1.  You’re going to go back on your word to never ever stop tight-rolling.
  2.  Columbia House will send you bills for twenty years for that 99 cent Paula Abdul collection.
  3.  Musicians end up being the Cools.
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