liberal arts studio.montserrat
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Individuality

by Rebecca Figler
 

As I smiled at all my guests, I anxiously waited in my cold, folding chair perched on a carpeted platform. Scents of pizza and candy hung heavily in the air. When I was younger, my parents occasionally brought me to places similar to Buddy's. I enjoyed them because of their play-places, their pizza, their arcade games, the tickets that the arcade games emitted at the end of a game, and all the fascinating prizes that I could choose using the tickets that I had rightfully earned. Since I was so enthralled with those places, I decided to hold a birthday party at one of them, and Buddy's was the closest to where I lived.

A few moments before I was waiting to open my presents, I had excitedly hopped up onto the elevated square. I had lowered myself into my seat in the middle of a group of about fifteen girls, who had circled around me on the floor. By my schoolÕs policy, I had invited all of the girls in my class in addition to my close friends, a policy that was supposed to prevent anyone from feeling out of place or rejected. However, as I glanced at each sneering, smirking face, as I heard each amused, demoralizing whisper, and as I heard each quiet, piercing snicker, my enthusiastic smile, along with my elation, faded. With growing shame and disappointment, I reluctantly realized that I had truly outgrown Buddy's. I was a big kid having a party at a place for little kids. As I continued to sit awkwardly on the platform opening presents, I swore with determination that I would never come back. I was eleven years old.

The incident at Buddy's became my first experience with isolation from an entire group. Because of the embarrassment and rejection that I felt, I inevitably became a member of the out-crowd. In my small school, my group consisted of my four friends and me, while everyone else was accepted within the "popular" group. The in-crowd of girls always knew the latest trends, always talked about boys and often flirted with them, and always found a reason to criticize one of us. Unlike most of them, I didn't have an older sibling to set an example for me and to guide me through modern society, so I learned about clothes and boys the hard way — being teased. The girls mocked my choice of outfits, and the boys ridiculed everything else about me, such as my last name, my tastes in food, or my shy nature. A few of the boys even made fun of a comic series that I had written and illustrated.

In order to be accepted by the larger proportion of my peers, I needed to follow what everyone else was doing. I needed to sport the latest fitted khaki pants, the cute, snug baby doll tops that discretely exposed an inch of midriff, and the matching knitted sweaters. I needed to wear makeup, reapply that makeup at least twice every day, and flirt with the attractive boys in our grade, unless the common knowledge existed that a girl had a crush on one of them. However, even though I wanted to fit in, I felt uncomfortable conforming to the traits of the in-crowd. Even in middle school, I had a sense of my own unique interests and personality, but I was insecure, ashamed, self-conscious of my individuality. I was torn between being myself and fitting in.

In sixth grade, on my twelfth birthday, I made another attempt at acceptance. Since my peers attended dances for fun, I decided to host my own dance at the town's local Arts Barn with a DJ, pizza, soda, and prizes. I felt assured that the in-crowd would approve of my party and finally accept me. To my disappointment, everyone left my friends and me alone in the main room, where the dance floor was, and spent the whole time in the pool room watching the Simpsons. As much as I tried to spark enthusiasm and encourage everyone to come back to the main room, they still found more interest in television than my party. Again, even a year after the incident at Buddy's, I experienced that same rejection that I had been so afraid of encountering, which further encouraged me to suppress my personal uniqueness.

Particular individuals made my situation even worse. Some of the popular girls my age would wrinkle their noses at me or contort their faces into disgusted expressions. Two boys a grade lower than I, Bobby and Chris, pouted and talked to me in slow, high-pitched voices, as if I werenÕt smart enough to understand them normally. In addition, a group of older girls harassed me about something new every day. They would seat themselves next to me during lunch and comment on how and what I was eating. I knew they were making fun of me because of the tones of their voices. One day, I wore a bright pink sweater to school, and when one of the girls saw my outfit, she snorted and said, "Hey, nice sweater," before laughing and walking away. I became even more shy and insecure because of the people who made fun of me. I took their behaviors and comments seriously, and I thought less of myself.

As I grew older, I slowly began to develop more of a sense of self-confidence. In high school, where my class consisted of three hundred students rather than thirty, there was still a popular group similar to the one I had encountered in middle school, but the groupÕs members, like the whole school, were diverse. Cheerleaders, athletes, stars of school plays, and those with an outgoing personalities were all well-known among the whole student body, but, unlike those fashionable, flirtatious preteens, the high school in-crowd did not pressure or criticize me in any way. Because so much diversity existed in the school, people were less concerned about a particular individualÕs style or behavior. I began to realize that if anyone seemed judgmental, I needed to ignore them. I began to reassure myself that their opinions didnÕt matter and that their thoughts did not affect me, especially because they didnÕt know me that well, if at all. Besides, a common reason for someone to criticize was that they felt insecure with themselves. Two more boys, Mike and Logan, continuously harassed me every day, loudly commenting about me to the whole class or asking me questions I did not want to answer. In high school, I had learned not to take peoplesÕ comments seriously, so I did not lose confidence in myself. Since their opinions did not matter to me, I simply ignored them.

As I gained more confidence in my own identity, I discovered more about my character. I started wearing loose-fitting, graphic T-shirts and comfortable flared jeans and sweatpants. I refrained from using makeup and special hair products that other girls used, and I developed interests in unique subjects such as wolves, mythical creatures, and Native American crafts and pictures. I still held an interest in art, and since I knew that no one would make fun of my illustrations (as the boys in middle school had) and that I would be surrounded by other artists, I continued to pursue my interest with encouragement from my friends and teachers, which helped me develop and learn more about my individual character. Currently, in college, I feel even more comfortable being myself, having my own interests, and wearing my own style of clothes, because now everyone is encouraged to be different.

I have always had a sense of individuality, whether I was aware or not, but until I attended high school, I had been uncomfortable and reluctant to have unique characteristics. I feared rejection and embarrassment, and yet I wanted to fit in and be accepted by everyone else. I wish I could have had the confidence and the courage in middle school to overcome my insecurity and my self-conscious state of mind and to reveal my true self. If I could have followed my own advice to be myself, I could have surpassed five years worth of stress and anxiety worrying about fitting in and being accepted within my peer group. If I could have redone my eleventh birthday party, I would have ignored the critical reactions of those girls, and I would have still gone back to Buddy's, where I always had fun no matter how old I was. Despite what everyone else thought of me, I should have continued doing what I loved to do.
 

English Composition 1, Fall '07