No one likes a sad girl. Think about the quiet girl in middle school, the sweet girl who was slow to smile. Was she sad because she had no friends? Or did she not have friends because she was sad? I believe melancholy young women make others uncomfortable because being sad, genuinely unhappy, is a denial of a profound message sent to girls.
It is not easy to be around unhappy people, regardless of their age or gender. But girls are expected to be sugar-and-spice, daily cheerleaders and little angels. The pressure faced by girls to be perpetually sunny is so intense that gloomy girls are met with intolerance.
I was not the happiest of campers in middle school. I vividly remember being badgered by my gym teacher: “Smile, Lilly! Smile! Smile!” It was a daily routine. Until I forced a smile, the well meaning yet misguided man would not leave me alone. I was not looking for sympathy; I was not looking for attention. But attention is what I got. Peers and teachers alike openly expressed their exasperation with my introversion.
I didn’t get it, why was my seriousness so offensive? What rule was I breaking?
Meanwhile, the popular girls around me giggled, shrieked and guffawed about nothing in particular. The stupidest joke made by a friend or a boy would send one of them into hysterics, and much like the hyenas in the Lion King, soon the rest would be LOLing, ROFLing* what have you.
In retrospect, I understand why middle school girls laugh at everything and anything, never stop smiling and always keep the conversation light. They’re adhering to a cardinal Good Girl rule, a code I unknowingly overlooked: the comfort of others comes first.
Like I said earlier, it is difficult to be around introverted, sad people. One must then deal with the messy emotions of concern, sympathy and empathy. It is far easier to be in the company of cheerful youngsters. And no one does cheerful like a popular middle school girl. She has perfected the act. People enjoy being around her because her predictably sunny outlook puts them at ease. Those around her can rest assured; she will always laugh at their jokes. No matter if she finds them funny, her laughter makes the comedian feel safe and that is paramount.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being happy, emotive and bubbly. For the record, since adopting a more optimistic outlook in high school, I am no longer such a morose bookworm. But there is something to be said for the fact that, as early as middle school, girls begin to do what feels comfortable for others, and not what feels comfortable to them. It starts with pretending to be happy on a bad day. But it leads to laughing at joke even though you actually find it offensive. It leads to letting someone’s hand stay on your arm even though you feel unsafe. It leads to losing touch with the internal voice, the emotional intuition that tells us how we truly feel. So while others tell you to cheer up, I say cheer up…if you want to.
*For those of you who are abbreviation illiterate (it’s okay, no need to be ashamed):
LOL-Laugh out loud
ROFL-Rolling on the floor laughing
Lilly is a high school senior and guest blogger for RachelSimmons.com. Read more about her here.