Posted by: Vanessa Barneveld | April 30, 2009

Clique and Dagger

It’s funny – Western culture is known for putting the focus on individualism. You know, every woman for herself; only one person can be the best; thinking in terms of “I” instead of “we”. But if you isolate, say, twenty individuals on an island, chances are they’ll start clustering into small groups, bonding over common likes, dislikes, morals, fashion sense, musical tastes, etc. The most famous breeding ground for cliques is the everyday high school. When you graduate, you’ll probably be part of a clique in your workplace, gym or university. I bet even retirement villages have cliques.

To me, cliques are about image, identity and belonging. At school, I didn’t know where I belonged. I became a social floater as opposed to a social butterfly, wandering from group to group in search of my people.

The swampies (“Goths” in today’s lexicon) and ska kids hung out together; you had to be pale and be a smoker, and I was neither. The best I could do was dye my hair jet-black and wear dark clothes in summer. Still, I loved the swampie look. They moped around school and talked endlessly about going to The Beat, a gay club in Fortitude Valley which is still around to this day.

The academic kids were adored by teachers because they were the only ones who actually listened to lectures. Hey, I paid attention in class…but mostly to gossip.

Sporty basketball boys and netball chicks also were revered because they trounced other schools in competition. One time, the sports department mistook me for an athlete and put me on the relay team. Didn’t they know I was the girl most likely to drop the baton?

One group of popular girls had it all – brains, beauty and boys in tow. Now, I could only claim to have brains in the anatomical sense, but at least I had something in common with those chicks.

It’s not just girls who care about which social group they belong to. A couple of my male colleagues, Rick and Trent* were just as concerned about popularity way back when. Rick says he was a lone outsider. He could merge into any group but also didn’t fully belong. Talking to other people, I’ve found this is a common experience. Some would rather be part of a crowd they didn’t really like than be utterly alone.

Sometimes we want to join a group not just for that sense of belonging but to feel well liked and popular. What makes a person or group so cool that everyone wants to be with them and in turn boost their own status? Trent says, “I think it’s a combo of things – looks, money, having unembarrassing parents. Also not caring too much about things, getting into a bit of trouble, having cool elder siblings, being tough. Though, usually tough kids are considered cool out of fear, not respect.” He says at his school groups weren’t always exclusive. They tended to overlap – the jocks infiltrated the rebel gang and the not-so-sporty joined in with the cool/sporty group.

What’s the most desperate thing you’ve ever done to belong? Confide in me and you could win my personal copy of Lisi Harrison’s book THE CLIQUE, which is about a girl who moves to a new school and clashes with a clique of bitchy richies.

* Not their real names. (Hope you like your new identities, “Rick” and “Trent.” Wink, wink.)



  1. When I was in high school, I hated people that could fit in everywhere. It felt to me like they couldn’t commit, like they tried too hard.
    It’s interesting to hear just how common this experience was for you and those around you!
    I can definitely see you fitting in in several groups though.

    I love the Clique series! Very cute and fun.

  2. I reckon there’s a lot of value in being able to mix with different people.

    Did you hear they’ve made a movie out of The Clique?

  3. I had heard they were going to do the Clique movie, I’ll have to check it out with my teens. Good post!

  4. Hey, Nat. Apparently it was made for DVD…

  5. While I’m now not the type of person desperate to belong (I march to the beat of a different drum, but the drum is really more like a Milo tin), when I was between 11 and 13 I was crazy about people liking me.
    When I first started high school, I immediately knew I did not fit in (I’m the type of person who gets along with and be friends with everyone- a little like you, I think – which is near impossible and usual ends up with me appearing to have multiple personalities). Now, I wonder why I wanted to fit in, but when I was 12, the grand high most important thing ever was to be popular.
    I became friends with the group who, in the first few weeks of Year 7 – when everything mattered and first impressions counted and everyone else was so much bigger than us – seemed destined to be popular.
    I completed comprimised the person I was (loud, obnoxious, opinionated) to be someone who I believed would fit in (quieter, less funny, and a sheep. Not a black or rainbow sheep, just your average run-of-the-mill white sheep).
    A series of events followed over the next month and a half, which would be comical if I was going through such a bad phase when it was occuring. It might work well as a book one day, with the introduction of zombies.
    What I realised later, was that it wasn’t the others in the group influencing me to be this way, it was me doing what I expected others to expect of me.
    I don’t go to that school anymore, though I’ve been told by a girl who does go there that the same group of kids are still popular.

    That probably wasn’t all that desperate (though it was awfully long-winded).

    I’ve never heard of swampies before, though I can’t help but think of emos wading out of a swamp now. Great post 😉


  6. The most desperate thing I’ve done is cut my hair in an unflattering punk cut so that I can look like the cool girls. Of course, my school wasn’t very happy and I got detention for a month until my hair grew out! Pathetic huh?

  7. Boo to the teachers for giving you detention over a haircut, Lesley! How did the cool girls react to your new look?

  8. They kind of just gave me cold, pointed looks. I suppose you can’t change someone’s opinion of you just because you change how you look! And it really didn’t look good on me so that didn’t help at all! Thanks for this discussion! It’s way cool!

  9. Hey, Steph! Thanks so much for sharing your story. It made me realise that we can only be responsible for our own happiness. I guess being popular is all well and good, but you want to be yourself and not pretend to be someone you’re not. (Oh, I’m sounding very Oprah Winfrey, aren’t I?)

    Lesley, you’re so right – you can’t just subscribe to an image without really feeling it, can you? That’s probably why the swampie thing didn’t work out for me too.

  10. Vanessa: Very Oprah. Testify, sister!

    Lesley: You should have shaved your head! It’s an incredibly liberating thing.

  11. I’m so not going there. Too embarrassing. It happened at a party. There was copious amounts of alcohol involved. And strange but cute guys. Enough said.

  12. And I keep hearing Kylie singing “Confide in Me”

  13. Diane, my imagination is going wild. Not enough said! Not enough said!

  14. Shave my head Steph? Eek!

  15. I’m with ya, Lesley! When I was about 13, I had my long hair cut short to be like Madonna in her ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ phase. My hair texture was never the same again!

  16. Every year since I was about twelve, I got my hair cut shorter and shorter, until last year I shaved it off. Entirely. I was completely bald. My hair is growing back very slowly (I now look like a cross between 1983 era Jamie Lee Curtis and the middle Jonas Brother), but it’s very thick and lovely. It’s not for anyone who really loves their hair, though. You walk around feeling naked for three months. This is probably not an issue for nudists or buddhist monks.

  17. I had posted it to the deep dark recesses of my mind until you asked the question. Nothing more will be said. I’m blushing.

  18. Yeah, there are many memories I’m beating back with a stick right now, Diane!

  19. Steph, I hope you shaved your head in summer and not winter! Brrrr! Although, I supposed there’s the risk of sunburn in summer…

  20. I remember kissing a guy when I was 14 just so that I could join in the conversations about boys that I usually had nothing to contribute to. I then turned him down when he asked me out because he wasn’t considered cool by some girls in the grade above me. I didn’t really make decisions for myself back then, evidently.

  21. Hey there, Victoria. You’re alone in wanting to keep up with your friends. Wouldn’t you just love to turn back time and do things differently?

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