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What is Popularity?

What is popularity, really?

Friend groups? Social constructs? We all know that one kid at school—the one who has a lot of friends, who seems to be well liked by everyone. Or, perhaps, simply known by everyone. In an attempt to take a stab at this complicated question myself, I interviewed fourteen Level One students to get their take on popularity.

What is your definition of “being popular”?

Among many answers, the most common definition of “being popular'' was being known and liked. One student commented that, “It means being either friends with other popular people, or people being scared of you.” Another explains that popularity means that “you’re invited to most of the parties and talk to most of the people in your class or grade. It seems like your life is “perfect”— you do good at school, you get good grades, everybody wants to be with you or talk to you because you’re important.” Some, however, say differently: “my way of seeing it” is applicable to extroverted people “ because they find it easier to talk to others, and as an introvert, I feel more stressed talking to people.” I found this an intriguing answer— perhaps the cause of popularity is not the consequence of what you have, but rather, of how you act.

How do these people become “popular”?

Among the large range of answers, the most common ones often reverted to the same few factors: “following trends”, “the things they do”, “being nice”, or “friendly and extroverted” — How you act. Unlike many fabled middle-school stories, at TFS, popularity is not determined by wealth or famous ancestry. It’s determined by your personality and how you project yourself outwards. As one of the interviewees said, “I think it still has to do with [what I said above] because they quickly build relationships with people right off the bat. That’s why people who are new to the school, if they’re extroverted, quickly become popular.”

Do you consider yourself “popular”?

“No.” “I don’t know.” “I think my friends are popular, but not me.” “I know people, but I’m not popular.” I asked many students who they considered “popular,” in hopes of getting a wider range of voices for this article. Surprisingly, many who were commonly thought of as immediately thought of as popular considers themselves not popular. This brings me to my next query:

Why or why don’t you consider yourself to be popular?

I don’t have many friends. That was the most common answer. I’m not popular, because I only have three or four friends. Is this the requirement? To be plentiful in the friendship area? “It’s a social construct,” says one of the interviewees. Another claims that they are “not popular— [they’re] known.” Others say that they don’t “try to become popular,” or that “[they] don’t think anyone is specifically popular, there are just different friend groups.”

If you could try to become “popular”, do you think you could?

This answer here was quite unanimous: if I try to, but I don’t. “I think anyone could be if they tried,” a Level One student explains. Their friend adds, “Yeah. You just, like, it’s kind of easy. Just be really friendly and go along with what others say.” Some other students disagree: “I don’t think that there is a “popular” person, or a “popular” group.” Another student explains that “You would probably have to try really hard, since how people are seen in the school has been really solidified in the past years.” Based on the last answers, I formulated my last question:

Would you agree that popularity is based on personality and reputation?

The answers varied, surprisingly, from “Yeah, for sure,” and “Yes,” to, “just the typical popular you see in movies, that type of popular, people like them and they make connections.” and “More reputation than personality.”

So, in the end, what is the basis of “popularity”? Well, according to students at TFS, it’s a mix of how you project yourself and your personality. It’s something that you think others have, but you may never quite achieve yourself. Yet, it’s something you could have if you tried to achieve. “Popularity” means being ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’. Who sets those trends? Who sets the bar for coolness? The school does. In a way, maybe we’re all popular among our friends, and maybe it’s good to always have someone to look up to.


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