From cliques to parties to significant others, it's no question that movies and shows like "Mean Girls," "Clueless" and "Pretty Little Liars" made high school seem like the most glamorous years of your life. They seemed to stress the importance of dressing like every day was fashion week while glossing over the comforting reality of sweatpants. They also seemed to imply that every high schooler would look like a chiseled Hollister model, making us all look down at our Pringles pouch with utter disdain. Here's everything that the movies and shows got wrong about high school.
Watching "Mean Girls" at 13 years old, I dreaded the high school cafeteria. I had mentally mapped out where the "cool kids" would sit and shuddered at the thought of being forced to drop my sad lunch tray down beside the kids so graciously dubbed as "losers." This first-day-of-school-nightmare scenario played over and over in my mind — until I actually stepped foot into the cafeteria.
My first experience in the all-too-crowded lunchroom had completely baffled me. My religious devotion to Cady Heron's explanation of high school lunch had totally betrayed me; it was absolutely nothing like the movies had shown. The room was small, narrow and loud. It was half illuminated with fluorescent overhead lights and partially lit by the floor-to-ceiling windows. Nobody took their lunch to the lawn, as we did not have one, and few people dared to venture to teachers' classrooms and the library to escape the din. While not every high school cafeteria is like this, it's a safe assumption that a real high school lunchroom is not as socially structured as it would appear in "Mean Girls."
In movies, dating seems to be an endless loop of falling in love, experiencing heartbreak and finding new love all over again. Movies seem to push the notion that there will always be a meek friend waiting around the next corner to be the next love interest.
I continued to ask my friend what she expected dating in high school to be like, and she proceeded to list a few attributes of Hollywood-style high school relationships that had completely slipped my mind.
In this day and age, relationships rely so heavily on communication via social media, be it likes on a photo, direct messages, comments or private chats under Snapchat stories. Very few teenagers have the courage to make steps towards a relationship in public or outside the safety of their phones, unlike the characters in movies and shows.
Romantic, spontaneous dates like Noah's in "The Notebook" (in which he asks 17-year-old Allie out) do not seem to happen as frequently. We do see heart-warming stories in our Instagram discover page, but we rarely see such romance in the halls of our own school.
There are so many images that come to mind when we think of "popular." Traditional high school lore like "Glee," "Heathers," "High School Musical" and "She's All That" push the notion almost religiously that athletes rule the social hierarchy of the school. Similarly, movies like "Clueless," "Mean Girls" and again, "Heathers," perpetuate the idea of a clique of popular girls frightening freshmen with a simple stare.
The unfortunate reality that four years at a medium-sized public high school taught me? Popularity isn't real. It doesn't work that way. Yes, there were some people that were more well known in the school, but this was primarily due to their involvement in various activities as opposed to just being categorized for one. The cheerleaders and football players had no special ranking, and choir and orchestra kids also held the same level of perceived popularity.
Popularity doesn't work the way it does in Heather Chandler's world. There were no cliques — just larger groups of friends who either had more money or held more parties. There wasn't an "it" group or even an "it" girl. The "higher ranking" groups didn't harass the smaller ones. There was no social structure the way movies have convinced us there is. Don't worry guys, getting a slushie to the face isn't gonna happen.
"There isn't as much drama at parties as they've always portrayed," my friend responded to the inquiry of what she expected high school parties to be like. "There isn't that sexual tension, it's pretty chill overall," she added.
"Mean Girls," for many of us, seemed to brand the image of parties laden with making out, booze and confrontation. Cady Heron's "small get-together" that snowballed into a "party of the century" type situation made us all do a small dance in our seats in anticipation for the future of our social lives.
Unfortunately, like so many other facets of Hollywood's version of high school, this isn't the reality. Parties do have a tendency to become alcohol-induced platforms for fights or arguments, but the worry about wearing the right kind of animal costume should be assuaged.
After asking my younger sister, who just finished her freshman year of high school, what she expected her peers to look like, she responded plainly, "like adults." This jarring statement highlighted one of the greatest flaws of Hollywood's picture of high school.
One of the most common phenomena of the recent century has been students and teenagers feeling that their bodies are severely inadequate and feeling that they don't meet some societal standard of appearance. This could very possibly be stemming from Hollywood continuously casting adults to play teenage roles. We look for ourselves in the media, but when the characters who are supposedly "our age" are slimmer, more chiseled and more mature looking, we have a tendency to feel far more inferior than is necessary.
At the beginning of the first season of the hit series "Pretty Little Liars," character Spencer Hastings was 16 years old, going on 17. At that same time, actress Troian Bellisario was 24 years old — a full 8 years older than her character. This was the same situation with most of the other leading ladies in the show; they made the young girls appear drastically older than they realistically should.
This is a frequent occurrence in high school movies and television shows, and it happens to be one of the greatest faults of Hollywood.
There's a set image we conjure in our heads when we hear "bully." It's normally one of two things — someone much bigger than us dressed in a way we have decided looks "tough" or a snarky leader of the popular cult, typically dressed in only the most expensive clothes.
I'm here to dispel both of these stereotypes.
I had a bully in high school, a girl who I considered a friend. She and I were in the drama club together, but she used our friendship to belittle and berate me, telling me I "wasn't good enough." Even though she was two years older than me, she harassed me and trashed me on social media, and continued to do so even after she graduated.
This brings up the point of what bullying really looks like now in the form of cyberbullying. I'm sure we all remember "Gossip Girl," and the constant onslaught of texts and messages about certain people. Even "Degrassi: The Next Generation" touched on the concept of leaving hurtful comments or texts about someone. This isn't what it really is, or has been. With the introduction of a "finsta" and the increased use of the phrase "subtweet," this is how cyberbullying happens now.
Posts made about someone, screenshotting, reposting and subtweeting are now the shape that online bullying has taken. It's not a Regina George or a Kurt and Ram; it's peers and students behind cellphones and handles crafted from plays on their name. On top of that, bullies also take the form of toxic friends — people who root the idea that you aren't good enough while holding your hand the whole time.
7. School Spirit
Nearly all of us feel a swell of pride when we hear the "High School Musical" Wildcats chant, and some of us know the fight song of Rydell High. In visual media that portrays high schoolers, one of the most "fashionable" trends is to illustrate the students as being full of school pride to the point of shouting the anthem of their school in the halls, rousing other students, painting their faces and bodies and coming to support every sports game.
While this might be the case for some students and some schools, my small high school "couldn't care less," as one student admitted. Sports games had their "superfans," but I can personally guarantee that none of us would know the school's fight song if it was played on a continuous loop.
8. Senior Year
My senior year was different from the ideal senior year because of my untreated anxiety, but that isn't the only reason my senior year didn't look like they promised it would in "Glee."
The expectation coming into the year looked something like long drives down winding roads with the top of some inexplicable convertible car down and indie music blaring from the radio. It looked like sports games, homecoming, parties with dim lights and loud music; it looked like romance and it looked like friend adventures before we parted ways once and for all.
Senior year, aside from the few extra privileges that it allowed, was pretty much like any other year, now with the thrilling addition of college application stress. Yes, some teachers allowed us to skip class and I did attend the Homecoming game, but the overall feel of senior year was nothing like what "High School Musical 3" looked like.
There were more emotions, I noticed, than the movies seemed to imply. I often felt worried or anxious, a feeling that the carefree adult-teenage hybrids seemed to completely dismiss. I felt pensive, sad and nostalgic, and I noticed that only one of those emotions were reflected in Hollywood's portrayal. One stunning omission from Hollywood movies, however, is that they seem to forget the greatest feeling of all, among the barrage of "I wish this would never end" — the feeling of triumph the moment the diploma is passed into your hands.
We all think we know exactly what high school will be like, armed with our devout inside-and-out, forward-and-backwards knowledge of movies, and we've watched enough "Glee," "Degrassi" and "Pretty Little Liars" to expect just what to look out for in the halls. It turns out, however, that Hollywood may have gotten a few things wrong, and high school, it seems, isn't all that it would appear. That doesn't mean that it's any less stressful, insane or rewarding. It's just... different.
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