As I am turning 20 in a couple months, I’ve begun to reflect a lot on my life. Mainly on who I was and who I am today. Today, I am someone that I can say I am truly proud of, but to get here, I had to go through a lot in my teenage years. If I had the ability to go back in time and talk to my middle school self, I’d give this one sentence of advice: “Stop worrying about trying to fit in with the cool kids, none of this will matter in a few years, trust me.”
I’ve always known I was different, and not different in a way that I thought I was better than anybody else, but I just knew that my mindset was different from the rest of the kids I grew up with. In the small New Jersey town I grew up in, the ‘big goal’ was to move from one side of town to the other. Most of the people who grew up there, never leave, and while I respect people’s life choices and goals, having a life like that wasn’t in my plans. I knew I was destined for something more, I just didn’t know what just yet.
The popular scene for kids and parents was participating in recreational sports’ leagues. From 3-years-old to 14-years-old, my seasons went as followed: fall, I played soccer, winter, I played basketball, spring, I played softball, and summer, I played tennis. I was always a very athletic kid growing up, and competition was always in my blood.
You would think that by being on sports teams all my life, I would create lifelong friendships with at least a few girls, but I didn’t. My parents always found it weird that I lacked communication with the other girls on my teams. They would try to get me to go over and talk to a certain group of girls, but I couldn’t get myself to. I always felt judged and looked at differently, even though they barely knew me.
As we all grew up in the same school system, most of kids had their cliques developed since elementary school. I was always the floater who always had ‘friends’ I would talk to but never a group of friends I could say were a part of my own ‘clique.’ Again, I just felt like no one understood me, and that no one could relate to how I was feeling.
Once I reached middle school, my life grew more complicated. By sixth grade, I wore glasses full time, sports goggles during sports events, had braces, and probably had the worst haircut known to man. Along with that awkward stage, came bullying. I remained ‘friendly’ with the girls on my sports teams, but as sixth grade continued, less people would talk to me in public. Girls would say ‘hi,’ but as soon as one of their friends would walk past us, they’d act as if they had no idea who I was. Initially, I paid no mind to it, but as time continued, I started to realize that I wasn’t like the rest of my grade, even more than before. I started to recognize who the ‘popular’ kids were, and who weren’t… and I was one of the unpopular ones. The popular girls wore Hollister and Abercrombie, yet I was ecstatic when my mom let me shop on the clearance rack of Aeropostale. While girls wore their Juicy Couture tracksuits, I was settling for Kohl’s knock-offs -- but even though I knew I wasn’t like the rest of them, I still loved myself for who I was. I always grew up learning that material things didn’t make a person, but personality did and I always believed that one day, these girls would realize this and I would be the popular one.
As middle school progressed, my confidence and social skills improved. I would try so hard to hang with the popular kids… I even asked a couple of boys out -- all responding with a ‘no.’ I learned how the popular kids were treated in school, and I wanted that attention as well. I wanted that praise and that spotlight I saw them receiving, but the more I tried to fit in while still being myself, the more I saw them push me away. I never knew what I was doing wrong. I didn’t realize what was ‘wrong’ with me until the seventh grade summer going into eighth grade.
I was at a boy’s pool party, and I walked over to a group of the popular boys and girls and tried to talk to them. As soon as I started talking, they began to give me a blank stare, until one of the boys said, “shut up, no one likes you MEG GRIFFIN.” I just laughed it off, thinking he was joking with me and they all just walked away. I didn’t pay much mind to it until later that night.
“Meg Griffin? Who the hell was Meg Griffin?” I proceeded to take out my laptop and Google search this name. I later found out it was a character from the show, “Family Guy.” Meg Griffin was the “ugly and unpopular” daughter who was ‘weird,’ that ‘no one liked.’ As I read this, my heart sank. I called the boy who hosted the pool party, who happened to be my only guy friend at the time, and asked him about the nickname. He said, “Rebecca, people have been calling you Meg Griffin since sixth grade…. You never knew that?” It was then that something snapped, my goal from that day on was to one day be popular. The rest of the summer, I kept to myself. I only saw certain friends, and I spent most of my time being around family. During that summer, I had gotten contacts, got my braces off, grew side bangs, and decided to actually buy brand name clothes, which by the way, were all still on clearance.
The first day of eighth grade so many girls were giving me compliments, guys were saying ‘hi’ to me first; some people didn’t even recognize me. The feeling of acceptance from the popular crew was great. The popular girls began asking me to hang out, and the boys who never looked my way were the first ones messaging me on Facebook saying, “hey:).” I was the ‘hot shot’ for my town’s girls basketball team, and I was picked as one of the lead roles in the school play. It was this play that made me fall in love with the entertainment industry. Everything was happening so fast and I felt on top of the world.
But, of course, as soon as things began to look up, things began to look down. As eighth grade ended and high school began, the ‘popular’ girls who I had once wanted to be a part of, were starting to ignore me again. They were getting jealous that the attention was becoming less on them and more on me. They bullied me for my desire to be in the entertainment industry, which in turn made me temporarily forget about my goals to be in the entertainment industry, and left me struggling to find a more ‘realistic’ goal to reach for. Starting high school was hard enough, especially since my town gets sent to a regional high school -- but now I had to make new friends, and try to figure out who I was all over again. The old friends I had in middle school before eighth grade didn’t talk to me as much because they saw how much I changed, and how much I had stopped acting like the girl they once knew. I had no idea who I really was anymore.
Then I found the high school drama club. My freshman year of high school, the drama club did a production of “The Wiz.” I went out for it, and landed a featured ensemble part. Many of the upperclassmen from the club began to take me under their wing and I began to realize that in this drama club, no one ever judged one another and it just seemed that everyone loved each other for whom they truly were. No one cared how smart you were, if you didn’t wear designer brands or if you wore glasses. All they cared about was that you came to each rehearsal with the desire and passion to create an amazing production. It was a very welcoming feeling, and I knew as soon as that production had ended, that I was truly at ‘Home.’ (It’s a reference from The Wiz)
As high school continued on, I began to really figure myself out. I began to realize: I wasn't meant to fit in. I was meant to stand out. I was still that nerdy girl from 7th grade. Yeah, even though I didn’t have the braces, or the glasses, or the horrible haircut, I was still the same girl on the inside. I was still the same girl who loved to make YouTube videos and act like a total goofball, just enjoying my youth. I realized at that moment so many of the girls I tried to be like were trying to grow up so fast that I began to make myself grow up just as fast. It was at this moment I knew I had to do major damage control.
I began to reconnect with old friends and make new friends looking to pursue the entertainment industry, just like me. All my friends and family were extremely supportive of my decision to chase an acting/modeling career, as long as I kept my head on straight and always had a backup plan. As I got more and more involved in acting and modeling, I truly began to find myself once again. I began to genuinely love myself.
Senior year was the best school year of my life. I fully learned to love myself. I realized people actually started to like me for me, not for someone I was pretending to be. During my senior year, I was drama club president, on student government, and was voted “Most Dramatic and Most Sarcastic” in the yearbook – total success.
Since high school, I have been in several print advertising campaigns, several commercials, starred in several music videos, casted in a few feature films, booked a lead in a new TV pilot which is in its final stages prior to filming, and recently walked in 2016’s New York Fashion Week.
Not too long ago, I walked into a Joyce Leslie that had a life size poster of me, and I caught one of the girls who used to bully me, just STARING at it. She still doesn’t know I was there, but to see the girl who once bullied me for my looks just staring up at a poster of me was one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. It’s moments like that that have made me realize why I had went through the pain and struggles that I had went through to get to where I am today.
The point of this article is to show young girls and guys that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Like I always say, ‘dreams don’t work unless you do.’ If you are or aren’t popular in school right now, DO NOT SWEAT IT. I promise you that in five years from now, or maybe even less, none of that popularity nonsense is going to matter – and I look at it this way, in the real world, you can’t put on your resume, “Popular from the years: 2010-2014.” SORRY, THAT IS NOT HOW LIFE WORKS. Don’t worry about what other people think about you, continue to pursue your dreams and no matter how big or small they are, I promise you, you will make it.
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