Money was tight when I entered my teen years- just about the time when wearing the 'right' jeans with the 'right' label on the back pocket seemed like the most important thing in the world. But, those jeans were expensive, and my parents had three daughters to shop for. I didn't know it then, but just scraping up enough money so that we all had what we needed, and some of what we wanted, was a huge challenge for my parents.
I didn't realize it because when I was twelve or thirteen, I was very wrapped up in 'me.' I was so concerned with what others would think of me, especially since this was the beginning of Junior High School. It would set the tone for the rest of my high school career! I thought fitting in meant looking like everyone else.
So, when the time came to school shop, I was horrified when my mother took me to a consignment shop, (used clothes). My face was red when we walked in the door, and as my mother and I went through racks and racks of clothes, I just knew I'd be starting school looking like a loser, and would probably spend the rest of my school years being thought of that way. I wanted to die.
I was angry at my mother, although I tried not to show it. I felt cheated and wondered why I couldn't have what the other kids had. I knew my Dad worked three jobs, and my mother just started working part time. Still, my sneakers and shoes weren't the most hip, and those Levi jeans I often dreamed about never happened. That red little label on my butt meant so much.
But, you know what? I entered Junior High and something happened, and it had nothing to do with my jeans. Within the first few weeks of class, I'd caught up with old friends from elementary school, and made new ones with kids who from the other elementary school across town. The more I made friends, the less I cared about what the back pocket of my jeans said. (I still cared some.)
That really changed when I met a girl named Jean. Everyone picked on her because she never dressed in the 'right' clothes and was a little chubby. Somehow, the kids knew that she didn't have a Dad, at least not at home. She was quiet, and all the kids thought she was some sort of freak who lived in a weird, dirty house. I felt bad for her- really bad. I was friends with many of the kids who picked on her, and I started hating the way I felt when they picked on Jean. They'd call her names or just snicker, and I'd watch her quietly walk down the corridor to class, never defending herself, with her head hung low. It tore me up inside, and all of my friends who wore the 'right jeans' weren't who I thought they were. They were mean, and were treating Jean the way I feared being treated in school.
One day I talked to Jean. She seemed a little surprised that I was being nice to her. But, it wasn't something I had to force. Jean was a sweet person, and I liked her for that. I didn't care what she wore or where she lived. What I cared about was her kindness. Shortly after we began talking, she invited me to her house after school for dinner.
My so called friends couldn't believe it. "You mean you're going to her house! Why?" They were shocked. I didn't have an answer, other than, "I just want to. It's no big deal." And, that was that.
I had dinner at Jean's house, and her mother, who the kids thought was a 'weirdo' for being a single Mom, was a very nice lady who fed us hot-dogs and fruit juice.
The school year ended, summer vacation began, and I never knew what happened to Jean. She moved away one day and I didn't know where. I remember driving by the house where she once lived, thinking about the day I had dinner there and how much fun it was.
I remembered Jean for the great person she was, not for the label my so called friends were so quick to place upon her.
That's when labels on jeans didn't mean so much to me anymore. It was who wore them that mattered.
PS- Today, much like my mother, I love consignment shops!
Ellen~ Thank you so much for this article....peer pressure is something that is so hard to deal with..Good for you for reaching out to that young girl regardless what your friends thought. I pray my daughters will always react in the same manner. (by the way...consignment shops are great, are they not? I believe that now, they have even become the "hip" thing..which is good for me, since I seem to spend a lot of time in them, lol) God bless~Mary