I was sixteen in 1984. Yep, big hair and bad skin. I wasn’t in the popular crowd or an outcast, but somewhere in between. Growing up in an affluent town in Long Island, I assumed that the prettier, popular kids in my high school had it easier than me. Television, movies, and Seventeen magazine taught me that the teenage dream meant having the nicest clothes, the clearest skin, shiniest hair, biggest house, and hanging at all the best parties. So it got me wondering about teens today vs. 1980s. Do those same pressures exist?

Finding your tribe.

Nowhere are our differences and desire to fit in more acute than in high school. It doesn’t matter which decade you’re from, all teens find themselves in a social group either by choice or thanks to their school’s caste system. Cliques may have been broader like in the 1980s hit movie, The Breakfast Club, featuring the popular girl, jock, geek, thug, and the misfit. But today, cliques are multiplying. According to the American Sociological Review1, larger school populations and the breadth of courses being offered are directly increasing the number of cliques and the need for kids seeking out others similar to themselves. Even gamers have their own clique these days.

Unattainable perfection.

Teenage years can deliver conditions that are beyond our control. It’s where many teens find themselves at their most vulnerable. Not everyone is blessed early on with stunning genes, stellar coordination, and sheer confidence. For many of us, we develop overtime. If we all peaked in high school, what fun would that be? But as a teenager, it can be hard to see past the right now.

According to Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, commissioned by the Dove® Self-Esteem Fund in 2008, “seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships with friends and family members.”

Boys, too, worry about their looks and body image. In a NBC Today Show /AOL survey conducted in 2014, “one in three boys says social media makes them feel more self-conscious about their appearance and more than 50 percent of teen boys said they had complained about their appearance in the past month.”

Truth is, teen insecurities and the desire to belong happen in every decade and in every high school caste system. Those popular kids are just making it look easy. But they feel the pressure too.

It truly does get better.

Thanks for reading. My new novel, I Like You Like This, is a poignant young adult read about addiction, sexuality, peer pressure, and first love. If you’d like a guest blog post from me, an excerpt from my new novel, or you’d like to interview me, feel free to email Heather@HeatherCumiskey.com and we’ll make it happen!


1 “Network Ecology and Adolescent Social Structure,” American Sociological Review, 2014.