Life isn’t made for Labels

I’ve never been ‘normal’. I’ve just never found that I can fit myself into one of those social groups, those cliques – I honestly don’t think I can reasonably slot into any of those standard categories – ‘athlete’, ‘nerd’, ‘alternative’ – none of them seem right for me, each for their own reason.

But here’s the thing: you probably feel the same way.

Before I make my point, let me describe in terms that are neither nice nor uncertain, my interpretation of the social groups of high school, all of which fall, somewhere, into the umbrella of ‘normal’.

Our definition of ‘normal’ however, is a subject for an entirely different post.

First, you have the standard: the ‘cool kids’, the ‘preps’, the ‘popular lot’ that, actually, no one likes very much at all. In most teen movies about high schools, these take the form of cheerleaders and stars of the football team, or the snobby rich kids whose parents essentially pay for their grades, friends, and liquor. In reality, however, in real, boring-as-heck high schools that don’t consist solely of beautiful people, these are whoever is the most attractive. They are also often the oldest in a school-year, go to the most parties, and hate themselves more than many of their peers, whilst simultaneously being infuriatingly self-obsessed.

In universal terms, these are the Kardashians and Jenners of the world.

Then there are the athletes, more commonly known as ‘jocks’. This is a group which often overlaps with the cool kids – physical perfection has always been a contributing factor to fake popularity.

These people spend all their lives at the gym, or the pool, or the track, or the club, or wherever it is that they train. Their Instagram is full of action shots and selfies taken with medals in hands and sweat on faces. Sport consumes their lives, to an extent that it becomes annoying for those around them. Like, babe, seriously, there’s a time and a place for workout gear, and school is not it. Speaking of school, jocks normally don’t do very well in it – they lucked out on physical ability, and as a result, have very little when it comes to brains. You don’t get everything, buddy.

Next up is ‘indie/boho people of the world’. They follow loads of travel blogs, and wear floppy sunhats and beaded jewellery and post artistic photos of shadows and beaches on Instagram, where their username is something like ‘childofthe_world’ or ‘notallwh0wanderarel0st.’ They’re all around just Instagram types – aesthetic and stylish and free-spirited and often overlapping with the ‘cool kids’. They’re those people who are witty and pretty and effortlessly perfect. The music they like is acoustic and cutesy but also edgy and slightly eclectic. They’re those people that bang on about ‘living in the moment’ and yet always seem to be looking at life through their camera. They talk about the importance of self-love and accepting your body the way it is, yet there’s one part of their body that they never show, and they love to talk about the latest beauty products. They liked things before they were cool, but they’re not hipsters, because hipster-ism is a dying trend, apparently. Not that I’d know, because I am not a boho chick.

Whatever, I totally don’t identify with this group of people at all.

*cough, cough*

Moving on, we have the nerds, the geeks – not to be mistaken with ‘internet kids’ (we’ll get to those later. Have patience, my precious). These are the people who don’t seem to do anything except work. Their grades are ridiculously good, they appear to care very little about their appearance, and they often spend their time in small groups – ones and twos seem to work well, as these people are often scared by large crowds. Nobody knows what they do outside of school – they have no or very few social media accounts, they never go to any parties, and whenever they’re asked what they did at the weekend, their answer is ‘oh, not much’. These people are school-obsessed, often cynical, and have a tendency to think that they’re above their less-intelligent peers.

And now there’s the internet kids, a group which most lump alongside the nerds. These people, however, are very different. Instead of being entirely absent from social media, they are incredibly active on it – although their school-mates often will not know this. When an internet kid is asked what they did at the weekend, they, too, reply with ‘oh, not much’, when in fact they spent the entire weekend refreshing Tumblr and posting witty tweets on the Twitter they run under a pseudonym. These people are fanboys and fangirls, social justice warriors, and highly opinionated. They love Sherlock and Marvel films, think diversity and tolerance and peace are the best things in the world (obviously, they’re wonderful and necessary things) and campaigned heavily against Trump and Brexit from the safety of their laptop keyboards and phone screens, despite being well under voting age.

We move on from these people to ‘alternatives’, a group which frequently overlaps with the internet kids. These people have hair that is dyed either black or red or purple or blue, with heavy swooshy fringes. Their faces are about 40% eyeliner, and their clothes are 100% black and 80% covered with skulls. They listen to bands that you’ve heard of but not listened to, watch horror films and anime (like the internet kids) and probably have an Ouija board under their bed. To be blunt, they’re emos and goths.

Closely related, although undeniably very different, are the rebels. These are like an amalgamation of internet kids, ‘people of the world’, and alternatives – they hate The System and wear lots of black leather and dark denim to prove it. Their makeup is always perfect, and it normally consists of a face full of eyeliner and black lipstick. Their social media is a mess but very popular – their cynicsm and witty hatred of The Man makes them well-liked online, but they hardly know, because most of the time they’re either too drunk or too high to notice.

Again overlapping, are the performing arts people: a group of people who sing a lot of showtunes and play a lot of instruments and love to be flamboyant. 60% of them are gay, and they all audition for every choir, dance troupe, and musical that comes their way. There isn’t too much more to say on these people, except that their parties are brilliantly fun and almost always end with a High School Musical sing-and-dance-along. (Try it next time you go out, it’s great.) (Yes I do have performing arts friends, they’re brilliantly fun, so fight me.)

Now we’ve got wallflowers. The group that, by pure definition, should have the fewest members, and yet most people, myself included, seem to consider themselves to fit into it the best, purely because it’s the one with the least definition.

Wallflowers are the ones who don’t seem to fit anywhere else – they’re just the group of people that were left out when everyone else got assigned a group, they’re the misfits. They don’t go to parties, just gatherings, with less than 20 people. They know each well, and there is rarely any drama in this group of people. They’re just a solid group of friends, who are each enirely individual and have their own style and their own tastes, who love each other dearly, and are normally quite left wing.

My friendship group are wallflowers. We became friends because we had to – there was no one else left to befriend. We love each other dearly, and are all so incredibly different that it’s strange we get along at all.

But here’s the thing. All of the people in my circle of friends could very easily slot into another, if you take them at face value, at first glance.

One of my friends has hair dyed black, an eyebrow piercing, and the last time I saw her not wearing black is when I let her borrow my own coat because she was cold. She listens to bands like MCR and Fall Out Boy and goes to gigs all the time. We can never go see a movie together because she’s more into watching heads be chopped off than me. Sounds like an alternative, right?

Wrong.

She is honestly one of the sweetest and kindest people I know – she loves kittens and gets super self-conscious all the time. She cares loads and loads about her grades and spends all her free time studying, and her little sister is her best friend. She got all excited over redecorating her room, and opens her home to her friends to get drunk in almost every other week. (Okay, slight exaggeration.) Doesn’t sound much like any specific group member anymore, does she?

Another of my good friends plays hockey. Hockey is his life, his everything. It’s what he wants to do with his life, and whenever we all organise to go out together – or stay in together – he can’t come, either because he’s got training, or he has training early the next morning.

Sounds like an athlete, yeah?

He also skives off school to go smoke behind the sheds, and not just tobacco, either. He spends more time than not complaining about the crapiness of the school system and the government, but his grades are actually really good. He gets all wound up in political or philosophical debates, but doesn’t really care, he just likes to have a strong opinion about everything. He is a loving and sweet boyfriend to my best friend, and an all-round good guy.

Now he just sounds like a normal, groupless, wallflower.

Another friend is a beautiful girl with stunning hair and always-perfect makeup. Her Instagram feed consists mainly of selfies, and, according to her reputation, she gets around a lot. She holds her drink well, but normally drinks enough at parties that you couldn’t tell, and she’s the oldest of all my friends. She lives in a lovely big house, and has a wardrobe full of expensively branded-clothes.

I’m not even gonna say it. You’re intelligent enough to realise.

She is one of the most honest and well-meaning people I’ve met, and her love for both her cats and her friends is, quite frankly, astonishing. She has the home-life of hell, and I haven’t heard of most of the music she likes. She is most definitely not a slut, she’s just been unlucky in love and has wound up with rumour-spreaders.

Yet another of my closest friends is the kind to by disappointed by an A. ‘I could have done better if I’d worked harder’, she says. She doesn’t wear makeup, and lives in dark coloured t-shirts and black jeans. She’s quiet and studious and acts like she’s smarter than everyone else – probably because she is, actually.

But her loyalty is undeniable, her friendship is treasured by everyone who holds it, and I don’t think she could fail to make you laugh if she tried. She’s incredibly insecure, but doesn’t want anyone to know, and her knowledge of memes is by far the greatest that I’ve encountered in my life.

So here’s the thing: when we know people a little better, we realise that they don’t fit into a group, at least, not so easily as we first assume. We realise that there are too many bits of their character that don’t quite fit the mould for them to slot so easily into the boxes we try to assign everyone but ourselves.

Sterotypes suck, and people don’t fit them, even if they appear to.

As I was writing this, I had someone in mind for each and every category. Someone who, at first glance, at first thought, at first ‘fish around in my mind for a name,’ fits the stereotype exactly. They’re unmistakably a member of this specific group – I thought.

And then I stopped, and thought over everything I knew of each person that had come to mind, all the tiny little things that aren’t obvious at first.

The girl I had in mind for the popular lot – I remember hearing, once, that she does a lot of volunteer work at kids camps. Back, years and years ago, when we were good friends, we would sit in her room and play teddies together. According to my mum, who speaks to her mum, she still has every last one of those soft toys in her room. She figure skates, which I’d forgotten, and she’s won all sorts of awards for it, and now I look back over her social medias, it seems to be a massive part of her life.

The ‘athlete’ girl I was thinking of? Well, according to her biology partner, my best friend, she’s actually amazing at the sciences, top of her class. She’s really astute on social media, and her following is pretty big. She’s pretty into politics, too, or so I gleaned from that one conversation we had a while ago, and she’s really funny, too. Also, now I think about it, she only wears her workout gear to school if she has a sport lesson that day.

My ‘indie’ girl? I recently saw her in the background of a photo from a party one of my performing arts friends was at. She was surrounded by performing arts people, a drink in her hand, her make-up sharp and sleek and on point and her outfit just screaming high-street store, and not online boho boutique.

I’m not about to go through all these categories and explain, because that will make me hate myself for judging all these people, most of whom I call my friends.

Now I feel like a really awful person.

Anyway. My point is this: we know that we don’t fit into categories, so why do we assume that all of our peers do?

The vast majority of people know that they and the group of people they spend time with do not fall into the boxes that we all know are there, and most people, as I said before, identify more as misfits than anything else – because that’s what we all are.

We’re all triangles that recognise that we can’t be crammed into circular holes – and yet we believe that everyone around us is a square who’ll fit into a square hole, when really, there are no square holes.

(Yay for metaphors, amiright?)

These groups, these cliques – they aren’t real. I hate to get all meta on you, but they’re man-made. Humans do not naturally fall into groups like that, not when they aren’t forced together into a factory at age 5, pushed around until they conform and make friends, and sent out again on a conveyor belt at age 18. (I’m talking about school, if you didn’t get that.)

In real life, friendships are so much more organic. They’re formed on slightly common interests, vaguely similar circumstance, or just nothing in particular. But not on having the same personalities. The personality groups that we think everyone else falls into don’t exist, not in such a pure form as we see them.

Yes, a lot of sporty people will probably spend time together. Yes, a group of people who listen to the same music will probably get along. Yes, a bunch of people who all have the same beliefs will probably want to fight the patriarchy together, but that doesn’t mean they have the same personality.

Think about the most famous friendships there are – Frodo and Sam; Harry, Ron, and Hermione; Holmes and Watson; Elizabeth and Jane Bennett; Marlin and Dory; Timon and Pumba; Elphaba and Glinda; Woody and Buzz; Monica, Rachel, Chandler etc; Pooh and Piglet, the list goes on!

And these friendships, these relationships, are not between people who are all exactly the same, they’re between individuals, who are entirely different, but, who actually get along really well, not because they’ve been pushed together by school, forced to make friends with each other, and found their place in a brutal eco-system, but because life has bought them together, and it’s just worked.

I know that reading this will probably not change your worldview, and make you stop putting your peers into boxes in your mind and making assumptions about them. That is just the way the human mind works – we like things ordered, in place, categorised. It’s a lot easier to know how to approach a person, how to act around them, when you’ve already assumed everything about them and decided your opinion of them.

I’m not saying that we should break down the walls of these groups for good, because school is tough, and having a system helps us get through it. But I think it’s good to keep a bit of an open mind there, too. Don’t spark a school-wide revolution, climaxing in a song-and-dance-number in your canteen, and wind up with the athletes and nerds and performing arts and preps all getting summer jobs together, because, spoilers, it takes three movies, Zac Efron, and a timeless soundtrack to finish the job.

(Two HSM references in one post. Ka-ching.)

But, be a little more lenient. Remember that the groups you observe at school, or college, and maybe even work, are just a whole bunch of different people, all thinking the same thing about you as you think about them.

If you don’t fit into a group, then why should anyone else?

Don’t forget to have a lovely week, and don’t die before you come back.

Lots of HSM love, Mima xoxo

P.S.  – If you find yourself offended by this post, then I suggest you re-evaluate yourself. The reason I was so rude about all the cliques is because no one is really like them, they’re the epitome of stereotype, and so I wasn’t worried about mocking everyone I’ve ever met. But if you identify strongly with any one of the groups, then, in all seriousness, there’s a problem. Please, don’t limit yourself. I guarantee you’ll have more fun when you admit that you like things outside of these restrictions. Life isn’t made for labels, any more than you are made to fit one.

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