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The Best Peer Pressure Lesson I Ever Learned

Adoration of the Shepherds by Bernardo Cavallino (1616-1656)

During our Thanksgiving feast my dad, David, mentioned a news story he heard about a newborn being abandoned and placed in a nativity scene. I mentioned that dolls that look like babies are so realistic with electronic features, such as blinking eyes and sounds of cries, that it is understandable how someone could think a doll was a baby human and vice versa.

That took my memory back to a time in fifth grade. All the girls decided that the next day would be "Doll Day" and agreed to bring in those that looked like newborn babies. Well, all the girls minus one - me - since I didn't have any of those dolls.

Girlish conversations continued throughout the day as they compared eye color and features of their play newborns. "My baby doll can make burping noises," one girl stated. "Mine can move her fingers and toes," another girl bragged.

"What can your doll do?" someone asked me. I shrugged and didn't answer her.

As I have written about before, my brother Jonny and I played very happily together with his G.I. Joes and my Barbies. Although I liked princesses, anything that sparkled, and having my nails painted, I disliked playing with dolls and didn't have any except my Barbies. I much preferred Legos and other toys that let me build things.

Even when we played with my Barbies, Jonny and I did our best to think of the worst calamity that could befall them before the good G.I. Joes rescued them. On most days my unfortunate Barbies went through a natural disaster, a kidnapping, and a very dangerous rescue. It was more military playing than doll playing.

On the way home from school the day before Doll Day, I blurted out, "Mum, can we stop at Toys R' Us? It's an emergency."

I rarely used such dramatic words as "emergency," so Mum calmly pulled the car over, looked at me, and asked me to explain. "I need a doll that looks like a baby," I said. Mummy kept looking at me expectantly, so I told her everything (oh, those mothers that always know when there is more to the story than what their children reveal).

"So let me see if I understand," she began. "You've never wanted a baby doll before, and don't really want it now. But you want me to get this so you can use it for one day, and then never play with it again?"

I nodded. "I'll be the only girl without one," I protested.

"What are you scared of?" Mum asked.

I didn't want to answer so I tried a different tactic. "I'll give the doll to charity after, and it will make another girl happy."

But she asked me the question again. "What are you scared of?"

Because whatever peer pressure group we are facing, there is always a fear that pressures us into conformity. So I finally admitted that I was scared that the girls wouldn't like me if they knew I didn't play with baby dolls.

She gently asked me uncomfortable questions such as, "Why are you afraid to be yourself and let people like you for you?" and "Don't you want to know who your real friends are, who will accept you no matter the toys you play with?" until I muttered for her to forget the doll and just go home. During the mostly silent drive (interrupted occasionally by younger brother Jonny in the backseat, who insisted he'd verbally beat up anyone who made fun of me), I grudgingly came to accept that Mum was right.

"It's going to be a hard day tomorrow," I said dramatically as we pulled into our driveway.

"Hard days are difficult, but they're also the ones that help you grow the most." And with those final wise words from Mummy, everyone fell silent on the subject (except Jonny, who sporadically that evening reminded me that he'd have strong words with anyone who ridiculed me).

Doll Day was certainly challenging. Some girls who I thought were my friends teased me the most. Other girls, who I previously didn't pay attention to, were kind and offered to let me share their dolls with them.

I learned who my true friends were, but more importantly I discovered the courage and the freedom that comes from knowing who you are and then sharing that with the world. It was truly the best peer pressure lesson I ever learned.

Dear readers, it's important for people to know the real you. Even if that means you have fewer "friends." Even if that means some hurting souls will make nasty comments to you. Even if that means you have to take a deep look inside yourself to find your authentic self.

Throughout the holiday season there is intense pressure on us to buy gifts for countless people, attend all events we are invited to, and to purchase things that are marketed as being vital to our happiness. But there is great courage and freedom in making all those choices for the benefit of our own joy and peace, and ignoring the peer pressure and commercialism that taunts us that more is more necessary.
By: Kristia Markarian