Dear Rabbi Lazer,
I'm 16, going into eleventh grade, and very unhappy. My best girlfriend is really popular at school and shul (we're conservative), and I'm not. In all honesty, I'm just as attractive as she is, and my grades are just as good as hers. At first, I thought maybe my clothes were out of style, so I went out and begged my mom to buy be the same clothes as my girlfriend. But, at any party or function, people flock to her and I feel like a tagalong. It’s really the pits. I do my best to talk and act like my girlfriend, but she's considered campus queen and I'm ignored like a wallflower. Rabbi, can you give me some kind of spiritual advice to make me popular too? I know you're busy with serious problems, but this is hurts me a lot, so please try to give me a quick answer. And thanks for the advice you give on your blog. Respectfully, Melanie from Canada
Imagine that a tractor didn't like its own appearance, and tried to imitate a Mercedes. The whole world would laugh! Then, the tractor would neither perform its function as a tractor - plowing fields, hauling produce, and the like - and certainly would fail miserably as a Mercedes. On the other hand, if a Mercedes tried to do the job of a tractor, it would get stuck in the mud and fail within a minute.
Melanie, The Almighty gave you your own very special package of abilities and aptitudes for performing your task in this world. When you try to be someone else, you have a double failure: First, you can't succeed in being the other person, because you lack the emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual tools that Hashem gave to that person. Second, when you attempt to be someone you're not, you fail to develop and to utilize your own unique Heaven-imbued attributes and skills.
The Talmud teaches that when a person seeks prestige, prestige eludes the person. Stop trying to be popular, and don't try to imitate your girlfriend. Be yourself: How? Act, speak, and dress in a manner that's natural and comfortable for you. Often, it's better to sit at home reading a good book, writing a poem or an entry to your diary, or baking a cake for Shabbat than it is to hang out with a bunch of peers that just gossip and waste time, if they don’t do things much worse. Also, stop tagging along as your girlfriend's prime groupie. Accept the fact that she's classroom queen. You should start fulfilling your own role as a cherished daughter of the King (Hashem) - the daughter of The King beats the classroom queen any day of the week.
When we need the approval of others, we become emotionally cripple because we make our happiness depend on the way they react to us. Not only is that ridiculous on our part, but being an emotional cripple and dependent on others for approval is just as problematic as being a physical cripple who might be dependent on crutches. The only way to attain true emotional freedom from peer pressure and from others is to cling to Hashem – that will give you tremendous strength.
One additional important point: When high school boys flock around you, they're not looking to discuss the Rambam, European history or the theory of relativity. Being popular with them is dead-end cheap popularity. Genuine popularity comes from being an upright human - compassionate, kind, charitable, modest, yet firm and courageous in your beliefs.
The entire world respects the bold nonconformist that stands up for his or her principles. Do you know why? It’s simple - Hashem respects such a person. When The Almighty is pleased with a person's actions, He grants that person a divine aura, an indescribable spiritual light that emanates from the face and serves as a magnet to attract other people. Possessing such a divine aura is genuine popularity.
I do suggest that you eat healthfully and get regular exercise, especially during these summer months. The better you feel in shape, the more self-confidence you'll have.
Thanks for writing, Melanie. May Hashem help you make the right choices in life. Blessings always, LB