Alpha Girls

by Honolulu Mother

Here’s an article exploring what makes the cool high school girls cool, and why those same traits don’t necessarily carry over to adult success:

Why Everyone Loves the Alpha Girl

Did you fit this description in high school? Did you know other kids who did? What are they up to as adults?

The queen bee of my high school class was the queen bee from elementary school on up — no change in adolescence — and she was really perfectly nice, not relationally aggressive as described. Though she did once send her friends to ask me to trade the prize I’d won in an elementary school reading contest (a basketball hoop you could fit to a wastebasket!) for what she got as the second place finisher — I declined. But on the whole, she was the queen bee because she was pretty and athletic and generally pleasant, plus she had a six years older sister who was pretty and athletic and a popular girl herself, so from early on she was the cute junior mascot of all the high school cheerleaders. And now she is married with kids, working at something or other that her parents are very proud of (I ran into them a couple of years ago), and has enough going on in her real life that she’s not much on FB. So I don’t think she fits the pattern of this article at all.


55 thoughts on “Alpha Girls

  1. Very interesting topic. I suspect there are a variety of hairs that need to be split. In my high school, the AP nerds were enough of a group that we had our own hierarchy, and my best friend was kind of the queen bee, but she wasn’t like the qb that the article describes.

    There was one beautiful, super-mean girl who was high-status in the jock/cheerleader crowd, but as the article notes, even her friends hated her. Her last name was similar to mine so I got stuck next to her at all school functions and she was such a bitch. She isn’t really on Facebook. She seems to have married a guy who sells insurance and she works with him and has a couple of kids who are athletic and went to third-tier colleges. So she’s certainly not top of the heap but she’s not living in the gutter, sadly.

  2. I have a group of friends who were popular in school. They still hang out together. They have good professional jobs are not married (one got married at 40 and has a young child). They travel and socialize quite a bit and post their travels on Facebook. They were not mean just in their own cool tight clique with their own inside jokes.
    This type of life is unusual for women in the home country, really surprising us their classmates. They are pioneers in this respect.

  3. “’In elementary school, the kids who are really well-liked and who are nice are also the kids who are popular,’ said Amanda Rose, a psychology researcher at the University of Missouri.”

    Good Lord, has this lady set foot in an ES classroom lately? DD was getting the mean-girls passive-aggressive subtle messaging and exclusion in 2nd grade. Maybe these girls knew enough to appear “nice” to unsuspecting adults, but they were anything but — it was like middle school in miniature.

    Our MS and HS experience so far has been much more like RMS described. There are so many different groups, and the Totebag-approved, going-on-to-good-colleges-and-careers nerdy group is now so big and so “out” that I don’t even know anyone in the popular-cheerleader category, because DD has a ton of friends and doesn’t really pay much mind to the rest. In fact, there is a significant level of disdain amongst this group of goody-two-shoes for drinking and drugs, and while everyone wants a boyfriend/girlfriend, by and large no one is really pairing off into more serious relationships. And the kids who are known to “party” and experiment seem to be much lower-status and more outcast-types. I suspect there is a line, i.e., the pretty/athletic/nice girl who is daring enough to cross a line here or there but who doesn’t do it overtly or often enough to be known as a stoner, so it is enticing and risque vs. easy and loser.

    I also posit that it isn’t so much the popular girls being so in need of approval that leads to the different outcomes as it is the disconnect between the character traits that work in HS and those that work in the real world. What at 16 can be a willingness to bend the rules can easily reflect or become an inability or lack of desire to conform to basic employer expectations; similarly, the desire to take risks with sex/drugs/alcohol could also be described as prioritizing immediate gratification. And we have all talked her about how the Totebag path seems to reward delayed gratification and the ability to conform to what is expected and follow the rules. So it may be that the very personality attributes that makes someone popular in HS might not be the traits that lead to success outside of that particular hothouse enironment. Conversely, maybe the more “boring” kids don’t do the things that would make them popular in HS precisely because they have either less desire to rebel, less interest in those things, or more executive function/less impulsivity, and so can better resist those immediate temptations — and those characteristics, in turn, are precisely the ones that tend to be correlated with success in the “real” world.

  4. For guys I noticed the change more in college. As a freshman status was based on looks, athletic ability and family money. By the time senior year rolled around, future career prospects were the top criteria. Some were able to make the pivot to ex-jock sales douche but many were not and their status plummeted.

  5. I agree with Laura that these girls emerge much earlier than HS. The queen bees emerged in my DD’s grade by the end of elementary school, and most haven’t lost their status since that time. The cliques shift a little in each grade, but the queen bees are essentially the same.

    I actually ran into the most popular guy in my HS a few months ago. We happened to be at the same bar mitzvah. He is a millionaire and manages his own private wealth team at one of the big banks.

    I don’t think my HS is typical because even the most popular kids had to be nerds deep down to get accepted and attend this type of HS. The kids that spent many days drinking or doing drugs in the park across the street from our HD are also successful lawyers, doctors, scientists and corporate types today.

  6. I went to a small ES (40 per grade) until we moved after 5th. Due to demographics – 6th was still ES, 7-9 were in the junior high and 10-12 were in the high school. 6th grade, I was new to the town with 100 students per grade. I made a few friends, but not in the popular group. In junior high we had 500 per grade. None of the popular ones from my ES made it to the popular crowd in junior high. They mainly came from the “richer” ES that we bordered and popular among the girls had a lot to do with how you dressed. And, yes they were mean. I went to private school 10-12, so I changed peer groups again. The popular crowd was not mean, just attractive, well spoken, got good grades, girls on drill team, etc. I never really figured out what feeder schools the kids came from so I don’t know if they had always been in that group.

    I agree the mean-girl starts in ES. My older DD is just oblivious to 95% percent of that stuff, while my younger one was never a target, she could see it happening and steered away. The meanest, mean-girl from DD#2 ES/MS years now goes to her HS where she is a small fish in a big pond. She has tried to keep the mean-girl thing going, especially in the girl team of the sport she plays. But, this year several people have stood up to her and told her that her behavior is not acceptable. She has backed off publically, but has pushed more of it underground and online.

  7. This topic brought back memories from long, long ago. The alpha girls at my high school were only a little mean and edgy, but mainly behaved enough to get good grades and other honors. Then you had the good girls like the class president who was very well liked but not particularly attractive, a little overweight. I remember she went to prom without a date. And then you had the alpha girls of the counter culture, which was more my crowd. They could be mean and aggressive, more like the boy behavior described in the article.

    The most memorable alpha girl, blonde, cute, cheerleader captain, etc., headed up the reunions we’ve had. She’s still attractive and even her hair style hasn’t changed much. I reconnected with one of the counter culture alpha girls a few years ago. She’s still sassy, but a little softened and kinder. Or maybe she was always that way but I remember her as more of a b!tch. Or maybe I’m the one that changed more.

    I’m reading My Brilliant Friend, narrated by the best friend of what you might say is a 1950s Naples Italy working-class version of an alpha girl. I am enjoying it very much, partly because I relate closely to the narrator who is something of a side kick to the edgy, street-wise alpha girl. The best friend narrator gains courage and becomes emboldened to take more risks from her relationship with the more reckless alpha girl, but usually for the better and never enough to get in serious trouble.

  8. Have to say, so glad I have boys. I’ve heard there are mean girls and cliques amongst the girls in their ES class, but my guys are oblivious.

  9. Both my kids know that they are not among the cool kids but since they have their friends and do their own thing, they are not bothered. A big focus of the middle school is to make sure every child finds their people and socially settles well at school.

  10. “And the kids who are known to “party” and experiment seem to be much lower-status and more outcast-types.”

    This was the case at my HS. The queen bee girls were pretty, well-off, and exclusionary, but not rebellious. Steady football-player boyfriends and a little drinking, but no smoking/drugs or any kind of behavior that would have been too horrifying I guess. Mostly pretty good grades, etc.

    One of the meanest QB is now an engineer & had a leadership position with the Society of Women Engineers. (Totebag sidenote)

    The meanest mean girl behavior by far was in middle school, starting around 5th & 6th grade, peaking in 7th & 8th grade, and then getting much better in HS.

  11. Not meaning to hijack — Ada, remember when I asked you how’s come all the alkies on Intervention are thin despite drinking about 8,000 calories a day in vodka? Here’s a paper that addresses that. I’d really like to know how they got this past the IRB, but maybe they didn’t have IRBs in 1972? “Yeah, let’s take alcoholics and give them 20 drinks a day, and then let’s switch them to chocolate, and see what happens.”

    That’s just the first page — you can find the abstract elsewhere. And TL;DR — alchohol screws up your metabolism in certain specific ways.

  12. There were some smart kids among the alpha kids in my HS, but by and large you were only in the alpha crowd if you played some sort of sport. Being good-looking or not didn’t seem to matter as a criterion, although a lot of the athletes were also attractive. These were all the popular kids who went to parties w/ drinking, etc. during HS.

    I think the alpha kids in middle school with me ended up being the ones not doing as well at life – I can think of a few who dropped out of HS and/or had kids at that age, etc.

  13. Most of the really popular girls in high school (which was a continuation of the hierarchy of middle school) were also smart and athletic and most of them I remember being pretty nice. I was in the upper middle I guess, but my boyfriend was the Homecoming King/captain of the soccer team type so I had a lot of different friends. They all seem to be reasonably successful and married well (at least those I see on Facebook).

    My oldest seems completely oblivious to all of this. I took some girls camping last year with the girl scouts and had four other girls in my car and they were talking about who the most popular boy and girl were in their ES. DD had no clue who the girl was and knew the boy because he had been in her class the previous year, but hadn’t heard about his most popular status before. My youngest has a very dominating personality and I think will be way more aware of popularity.

  14. I think for girls, being good-looking was essential for being alpha/popular/status, but for boys, being athletic was more important than looks. Some really goofy looking athletic boys on the Homecoming court, for instance. Still goofy looking 25 years later too.

  15. “TL;DR — alchohol screws up your metabolism in certain specific ways.”

    Spelling/typing abilities? :-)

    IDK, I think this is awesome news — clearly, the solution to all our weight problems is just to drink more. . . .

  16. RMS, they didn’t do IRBs in 1972 – all of that human subject protection stuff came later.

  17. Off topic whining: Remember how I had my right artificial hip “revised” in 2014, and the recovery took *forever* and was all kinds of complicated and a PITA and I was beside myself about my horrid gait? Did all kinds of desperate things like the under desk bike and a bazillion hours of every kind of exercise that I thought might help?

    I think a combo of spinning, weights and hot vinyasa yoga has been the final trick, and a few weeks ago, around the 3d anniversary of the surgery, I told DH I think I am finally *almost* back to where I was before that surgery in terms of strength and gait.

    I had this amazing plan to spend the summer working on a novel that’s due to my editor in the fall. I haven’t done a bit of work on it because I haven’t wanted to squander a second with DD before she leaves for the summer (next Tuesday), after which she leaves for college. I’ve been telling everyone around me that as of Wed, I’ll be diving into the draft and doing nothing but that for the rest of the summer.

    And then … I felt a twinge in my LEFT hip during yoga on Friday, exactly like the one I felt when my right one came loose. I saw my orthopod today, and I have to get the left one revised. I’ll have the surgery on June 26.

    FFS. Here we go again. And so much for that novel …

  18. Oh no, Risley. I hope this recovery goes more smoothly than the last one. Hugs.

  19. Ris, feel for you.

    On topic, I think that article is completely ridiculous.

  20. On topic, both my DS and my DD so far seem oblivious to social status. So I haven’t had to pay much attention to what’s happening at school; I have absolutely no clue who the alpha boys and girls in their classes are. I am hoping against hope that this lasts, but I know the odds aren’t great (they’re 13 and 10, respectively).

  21. Oh, Risley, that just stinks. I hope they fix it and that knowing what helped most the last time will speed up your recovery this time!

  22. So sorry Risley.

    There was mean girl stuff in preschool for one of my kids. Thankfully, my kid in that class was a boy and oblivious to it. But it got pretty bad and the teachers were upset by it. There is a lot of mean girl stuff with the moms, too, so I didn’t find it that surprising. I hope my daughter is oblivious to this kind of stuff until she is much older.

  23. Sky — speaking of school social nightmares, how’s your daughter doing?

  24. Thanks all. I’m spending the rest of today moping, but by tomorrow I hope to be back to finding silver linings.

  25. Ris: Perhaps technology has progressed to the point that your recovery will be quick and smooth? Here’s hoping. So sorry for the bad news.

  26. Risley, sorry to hear about that. I hope that what you learned with your right hip will help smooth the recovery process for your left hip.

  27. “the Totebag path seems to reward delayed gratification and the ability to conform to what is expected and follow the rules.”

    It also typically involves knowing the rules very well, and knowing or figuring out how to work within those rules, e.g., knowing what needs to be done to get their kids into better schools than non-totebaggers.

    This is a type of skill that probably is very transferable to a professional level for many of us. I’m thinking that Mémé spent much of her professional career using such a skill.

    For engineers, some of the rules within which we must work are the rules of physics.

    OTOH, perhaps LfB just changed a rule.

  28. My DD seems to be doing better overall – the kids who were throwing rocks and hitting her at recess have found other ways to amuse themselves. I’m not sure what, if anything, the school administration did to stop it.

    And one of the most problematic kids is moving, which will help. She’s figuring out how to strategize a bit – some of the mean girls are nicer if she does play dates or activities with them outside of school, and some are worse. She will have a lot of different camps this summer, including one for gifted kids, and I’m hoping she will make some new friends.

    In other news, I’m interviewing to go back to work. It’s much more intimidating than I expected, since I haven’t even worn a skirt suit for six years….

  29. Good luck, Sky! I like working.

    I wonder how much the mean girl thing varies by geography. Growing up in Iowa and with lots of teacher relatives, mean girls seemed very much the exception. Most parents at our school would squash any attempt by their children to deliberately exclude or ridicule others. Children can be cruel on their own, of course, but the parents model what they preach, for the most part. Cliques form based on interest, but the lunchroom/playground culture is inclusive. The LDS parents are tight-knit, but I’ve asked them for advice (Do I have to transport DS1 to the spelling bee? Which soccer groups don’t have Sunday games?) and they are always very gracious.

  30. WCE, I find that the parents here are nearly always pleasant, but they have widely varying opinions on how much they should be actively shaping behavior and moral outlook vs. “letting kids be kids.”

    Compared to your neighborhood I would guess that we have very few people whose top priority for their kids is that they be kind (vs. kind enough and athletic, or kind enough and academic stars, etc.).

  31. Glad to hear it’s improving, Sky. And good luck with the job search. I think you’ll be happier.

  32. Risley – best wishes for a speedier recovery this time around.
    Sky – I hope you find something over the summer, will make for an easier transition when school starts.

  33. The other day someone messaged me on facebook and turned out to be a girl I knew in high school. I should point out that I haven’t to my knowledge encountered a single individual from my high school since I was 25 (other than my former best friend and maid of honor). I recall her as really nice, almost midwest nice, with an overlay of Unitarian activism (she now works at the Boston NPR station.) I’ll meet up with her in August when I get back from my travels. And I am sure she will entice me to go back for my 50th in two years. She is a variant of popular girl – friendly, did clubs, works on high school and college reunions, is active in her community, took to facebook easily with lots of encouraging posts of local do gooders and pictures of the garden. She was not then or now a mean girl or the sort of person that one regarded with a sort of nervous awe for naughtiness or boldness. She would thrive in the right sort of retirement community, and would just brush aside the fussy clique makers while organizing yet another inclusive activity. However, I watched the cliques in my mom’s retirement home. Those women are the leftover mean girls, with their self assigned tables in the dining room. They are the same women who have their self assigned bike in the spinning class, get to chair the more desirable committees at PTO, who organize the lunch outings at work that you must have missed the notice on. It isn’t about doing well in the wider world, more maintaining the pecking order from preschool until the grave.

  34. Risley – that stinks, but I really hope you have a better recovery this time.

    My neighbor is having a very hard time getting her mom to feel ok about her new apartment in an assisted living facility. She was unable to live alone in her home, and she sold her home earlier this year and moved to a nearby community. She is not part of the clique because she is new, and she didn’t know anyone when she moved to this facility. My neighbor is feeling very stressed about her mom, and she hates leaving her there alone because her mom feels excluded – especially at meals.

  35. Lauren, this is going to sound so simple that it will be hard to deliver the advice, but could your friend’s mom view this as a chance to figure out who is even more lonely than she is and befriend those people? There must be others who are excluded.

    That’s how I got through a lot of high school….

  36. Lauren,
    My dad’s retirement facility has assigned seating at meals, presumably because of the issues your neighbor’s mom is dealing with. My dad loves charts and spreadsheets, so he took the job of organizing the seating assignments for each month. Every time, he has to deal with special requests from ladies (never men, who don’t seem to care where they sit) who are insistent on NOT being assigned to the same table as others. It is so much like a middle school cafeteria, and the mean girls don’t even pretend to be nice.

  37. Ugh, as opposed to WCE who described the midwest as a sort of kinder, gentler place, I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business. I was so jealous of the alpha girls, and honestly, the alpha families, in our little town. I was desperate to break out of there and craved the anonymity that comes with living in a bigger city.

  38. Ris – First, I’m sorry you’ll have to go thru this.
    Next, and not trying to pry so no offense if you choose to ignore. Anyway, I’m wondering if you’re having a resurfacing, which I’ve been told by my ortho requires 4 weeks away from work but I’d be able to do more pounding-type exercise (jogging, basketball) that I used to do, vs a replacement that when done anteriorly is 2 weeks. Somebody in the office had it done that way and she was back without a cane or anything in 2 weeks. Disadvantage with a replacement, I’m told, is that the amount of jogging or other pounding I can do is limited. I’m trying to figure out when to schedule my surgery and trying unsuccessfully so far to lose some weight before.
    Good luck to you!

  39. Lauren, at my Dad’s facility, there was a regular turnover of residents, and thus a certain reticence about getting close to other residents.

  40. Risley, I’m so sorry to hear that – I hope your last experience is not predictive.

    Girls at my high school were really pretty nice. There were one or two that might have been considered alphas, but they were very wealthy and more sophisticated than everyone else (or so they led us to believe), and dated older guys so never hung out with other girls in the class. Middle had some awful girls.

    My daughter’s middle school was full of girls jockeying for position, and alliances and battles constantly changing. The meanest, but most fun away from the crowd, alpha girl lived on our culdesac. She was my DD’s best friend away from school, okay friend at school, and victim whenever alpha girl needed to demonstrate her supremacy. That contributed to my decision to move – she was pretty toxic. My DD keeps in touch with her on facebook, and just told me she is pregnant. She has had a couple of semesters at community college, and is not married to the father. I’m keeping my schadenfreude in check, but barely. (And her mom was the nicest person – would always tell me I don’t want my DD to be “that” girl!)

    I don’t even want to think of the mean girl thing in retirement communities – my mom is so sweet, and has never had to deal with that. She has an identical twin, and they were inseparable growing up, so completely immune to mean girl stuff. She was always stunned by stories I told her. One of my siblings’ current plan is that my parents should move back to NJ to be with the twin and her husband, but a cross country move sounds pretty daunting to my parents at this point. This makes me wish we had stayed there rather than move to Houston (other than all of the other things about there that made it not so great, which I am blocking out to maximize my guilt).

  41. In the home country, in prior generations there were no retirement communities or nursing homes, I never realized the exclusion some seniors may feel in such living situations.
    My uncle who is estranged from my aunt is now in a care home for people who can’t/don’t want to live with their families. It was tough to get a spot in a decently run place. My uncle had at least twice disappeared from his own house and the last time the family was contacted was when he ended up in a homeless shelter. Very difficult situation but for now he has stabilized and in a comfortable living situation. Hopefully he likes it enough there as there aren’t many other options.

  42. Risley, I’m wishing you the best on your recovery. The prospect of a surgery like that would be terrifying to me, but OTOH it’s comforting to know you’ve done it before and came out (finally) successful.

    “a regular turnover of residents” Euphemism?

    I’d like to think that at an advanced age I would be done with petty mean-girl snubs, but that may be too optimistic. I can see how it could be even worse as a frail older person living in an institution without much control over my day to day life.

  43. “(other than all of the other things about there that made it not so great, which I am blocking out to maximize my guilt)”

    LOL. It’s funny ’cause it’s true. :-)

  44. Fred – I had both hips replaced in 2000. At the time, they didn’t have “petite” sized acetabulums (sockets) in ceramic, so they had to used HDPE for that part of the joint. About a year later, they developed petite sized ceramic ones, and the medical community realized HDPE leads to issues over time. My surgeon warned I might need to have a “revision” at some point, where they replace the HDPE acetabulums with ceramic ones. We hoped I might not have to have this done, and every year, I had x-rays done to see if the issues had begun. I did get away for some time without the revision — 14 years on the right side and 17 on the left.

    A resurfacing wasn’t an option for me, and I don’t know a ton about that procedure, but I believe that’s for someone with a decent (i.e., properly formed) joint that has developed problems only on the articulating surface. A “smoothing” out of that surface does the trick, so there’s no need to replace the architecture. I had a funky joint–the “ball” at the top of my femur looked more like a fist than a ball, and the acetabulum (socket) was too shallow–so I really needed an entirely new joint, shaped properly.

    I have read, though it’s been some years now, that if you can get away with resurfacing, you should do it. You could always go to Plan B and get an artificial joint down the line if the resurfacing seems not to have been a permanent solution. There may be some websites where people (patients as well as docs) discuss the pros/cons of each. If you Google “hip resurfacing versus hip replacement,” you might find some informative articles/comments sections.

    I’m not aware about recovery times for resurfacing. I know hip revisions take far longer to recover from than the initial replacement. I had both hips replaced 3 weeks apart in 2000, and was picking up kids, etc in short order. It was super speedy. The recovery after revision was not like that at all.

    But if resurfacing is better in your case, I’d take the extra recovery time and do the resurfacing. If you replace the joint now, and then later need a revision, there’s always a chance the revision will lead to more problems–i.e., if they have to replace the rod they stick down your femur, there can be complications, the femur can shatter when they try to remove and replace the rod, etc. My revision is the easy one — replace the socket part only, and replace the ball while they’re in there since that part is modular and they can easily pop off one ball and stick on the new one. But a revision that includes the rod in the femur can be problematic and lead to huge limits in your movement. So, better to put off the replacement as long as you can, so you don’t live long enough to need a revision, imho.

    If your doc feels replacement is the better route, I know that there are now “sport” versions of artificial hips. (There weren’t when I had my procedure done). You could ask about that. I’m not sure if they’re designed for extra pounding or for better range of motion; if the latter, this might not be the solution for you. I personally decided to stop running long distances once I got my fake hips, because I didn’t want to bring a revision on myself.

    My orthopod has emphasized weight since I met him. His advice has always been to stay at the light end of my weight range, which I’ve done. He would say that is the #1 way to ensure your fake hip or resurfaced hip lasts as long as possible.

    I’m not sure if all of that completely answers your question. I’m happy to discuss it more if there’s some other angle I didn’t cover that you’re wondering about.

  45. Ris – thanks so much! You answered everything I thought of and more! Best to you.

  46. Fred – great! Let me/us know what you decide, and when you get it done (unless of course you don’t want to!) We can cheer you on through the recovery.

  47. ““a regular turnover of residents” Euphemism?”

    While it does avoid directly addressing the reason for the turnover, it doesn’t use a different word for it, so I don’t think it’s a euphemism.

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