I am NOT made of PLASTIC!
By Arielle Atherley
2004. 2004 was the year George W. Bush beat John Kerry in the Presidential election, the year we entered adolescence with Harry, Ron, and Hermioine, and the year Mark Zuckerberg launched a little social networking website called Facebook. In 2004, I turned twelve, I took the train by myself for the first time, and I started middle school. In 2004, as I stood stunned at the bottom of a staircase, silence echoed around me. There was no sound but the one thought in my head: Holy shit, this is like a scene out of Mean Girls. It was at that point that I realized just how deeply I'd been sucked in and just how badly I needed to get out.
Brooklyn. Up until 2004, Brooklyn, NY was all I knew. Bright lights filling the streets, busy avenues with endless traffic, street corners crowded by high school dropouts and old drunks, and a never-ending supply of hair salons, nail parlors, and 99-cent discount stores. That was my childhood. My elementary school was a 5-minute drive from my house. Everything was local and I had never spent much time outside of my borough. Brooklyn was a school of hard knocks and I was a full time student. But I was in no way prepared for the transition I was about to face.
York Prep. Nerd, over- achiever, goody-two-shoes--I had suffered through them all in elementary school compliments of my being an A+ student. In 2004, my grades, along with my enrollment in an academic preparation program called Prep for Prep, earned me a scholarship to a quaint little private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. York Preparatory School was like something out of a dream for a kid like me. The small classes, one-on-one student/teacher attention, and pristine classes starkly contrasted with the over-crowded classes, run-down buildings, and fifth-hand textbooks I was accustomed to.
These kids were also incredibly rich. I'm talking "I'm twelve and I have a bank card and a personal driver," type rich; the "I live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and my family owns a beach house in the Hamptons," type rich; the "my mom is a fashion designer," or "my dad is a reporter for ABC news," type rich. My dad worked a 9-to-5 job and my mom was unemployed, I lived in an outer borough, and, to top things off, I was attending York Prep on a full scholarship. I didn't fit in.
My social status initially wasn't important to me. "You're not at school to make friends, you're there to learn," my parents constantly ingrained in my head. I did my best to ignore the social strata at York, but living in social oblivion got really old, really quickly. With the progression of time, the dynamic between the various cliques within my grade became clearer to me. There were the emo kids, the nerdy guys, the nerdy girls, the popular guys, and their female counterparts, "The Plastics"of York Prep: Sadie, Erin, Sophia, and their leader Joelle.
It was no wonder that Joelle was their leader with her dazzling smile, designer clothes, coke-bottle shape, and bitchy tendencies; Joelle was perfect. Everyone wanted to be her. It had become way too clear to me that to survive in private school was about being popular, associating yourself with other popular people, and having other popular kids at other private schools know of your popularity too. Straddling the line between nerdy girl and Plastic, I realized that everyone had a place in the social hierarchy; I knew I had to be one of them.
Mean Girls. In April of 2004, the movie Mean Girls was released into theaters. Every girl fantasized about being one of "The Plastics," the beautiful, popular, rich girls who dominated the social hierarchy of their grade. Realistically, most girls could better relate to Cady Heron, the film's protagonist who, in an attempt to assimilate into the social culture at her school, gets herself involved with "The Plastics" and who quickly finds herself in over her head. Well, call me Cady, because the way I saw it, survival equaled becoming a Plastic. They were pretty, popular, smart, and everyone wanted to be one of them.
"How hard could it be?" I thought. And so, I began weaning my way into their social circle by changing everything about myself. Tighter shirts, shorter skirts, and straighter hair became my "look." My new pastimes included keeping track of all the gossip in the grade, and shunning the non-popular girls who were once my friends. But it was working. Slowly but surely, I was getting invited to parties and sleepovers, I always had someone to go to lunch with, and I always had plans after school. People were noticing me and I loved every second of it.
Being popular was as simple as being a bitch…that and mastering the art of spreading the "right" gossip around the grade and keeping other dark secrets to myself. One day at lunch, I found myself whispering to Sophia. "I heard Sadie hung out with Jake after school yesterday," I said. "Oh my gosh, really?" Sophia responded, "That's so weird 'cause she told me she didn't like him." Yes, the gossiping was mean. Yes, it was unnecessary. And yes, it was wrong. But none of that mattered to me. All that mattered was that I was no longer a social outcast. Joelle, Sadie, Erin, and Sophia, "The Plastics"of my grade, were my four closest friends. And now I was a Plastic too. Life was good.
Eighth grade. Everything was perfect. My social life was booming and on top of that, I managed to continue excelling in my schoolwork. Face it. At thirteen years old, all we really want is for people to like us. Well, not only did people like me, but they needed me to like them in return. I was living the thirteen-year-old American dream. Of course our group had tension. "Don't you think Sophia sucks up to Joelle?" Erin asked me one day. "Sometimes, I guess," I replied. "Yeah, I don't get it. It's like she wants Joelle to like her the best, but if I told Joelle that Sophia talks about her, I bet I could end that," Erin responded. I wondered how we could be so close when we all talked about each other so much, but I came to the conclusion that clashing is inevitable in a group of five girls with distinct personalities. No matter what, we did an immaculate job of maintaining our image; "The Plastics" were always perfectly contented social butterflies to the rest of the grade. That is, until the boys got involved. Everyone knows that in middle school, boys are the root of all evil…or at least the root of all drama. Ironically enough, as in the plot of the movie, our downfall came because of a stupid boy.
Girl code. Joelle liked Keith (who, as he was the tall, post-pubescent looking star of the basketball team, would naturally be her perfect match), and because she liked Keith, he was untouchable. We had an unspoken agreement (more like an unspoken rule enforced by our darling, boy crazy, queen bee Joelle) that when one of us liked a boy, he officially became off limits to anyone else in our group. Talking to, looking at, or even thinking about that boy was forbidden; it could land you in exile almost immediately. One day, Joelle and Sadie had a little falling out. Half an hour later, Joelle and I were wandering around school gossiping. We strolled into a secluded hallway on the top floor of the building and there they were. Sadie and Keith, face to face, having an intimate (though probably innocent) conversation. "I was talking to him first! I liked him, and you knew that!" Joelle screamed at Sadie. "Why would you do this?" she said, flailing her arms and stomping in frustration. The shriek of her voice matched the pain in her face. Bursting into tears, she darted up the stairs. That's when it hit me; that's when I realized we were having a Mean Girls moment. Half of me felt like bursting out in laughter because of the ridiculousness of the situation; the other half of me resisted the urge to just walk away from it entirely. I stood at the bottom of the stairs in disbelief, not sure what to do next before rushing up the stairs after Joelle.
After fifteen minutes of sitting on the bathroom floor with Joelle, I staredcout the window and noticed the sky getting darker; it was time to go home. On my twenty-four-stop train ride back to Brooklyn, I lost myself in thought. It was a train ride I'll never forget. Still shocked, I didn't know where to take things from there. I knew things would never be the same with the girls. But a part of me couldn't help but to think that maybe it was for the better. Being a Plastic was exhausting. We all talked behind each others' backs, none of us really liked each other, and there were factions forming amongst us that I guaranteed would become more pronounced after that day's events. The constant lying, backstabbing, and gossiping drained the meaning out of the word "friend." It was tiring, and I didn't want to do it anymore. No amount of popularity was worth my soul.
Of course we all broke up after that day. Joelle and Sadie stopped speaking. Erin and Sophia took Sadie's side, so Joelle stopped talking to them too. I was caught in the middle. Being the peacemaker that I am, I tried to fix us, but it was pointless. Lunches became quiet. Hallways became cold. No more after-school hangouts,gossip sessions, or slumber parties. The Plastics were broken and that was it.