High school can be the best years of someone’s life — or the worst. For many students, it is the latter because they don’t know who they truly are yet. It’s a time for first kisses, dances and lots of hard decisions.
All of which has me thinking about psychologist Abraham Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs that each of us experience in life, and how they apply to high school students.
That hierarchy, which he created in 1943, begins with physiological needs, such as air, food, water and shelter. The next is safety, followed by love. The fourth level is esteem, and the final level is self-actualization, which is the most rewarding with potential, fulfillment and personal growth.
According to Maslow, who was trying to understand what motivates people in their actions, progression to each level is not achieved unless a lower level is satisfied first. For example, a starving homeless person isn’t going to be on eHarmony trying to find their soul mate.
For those who do rise to the final and top level, it is a glorious occasion.
A recent new film called “The Duff” somewhat illustrates that point of self-actualization. It is about a young girl named Bianca, who attends a party with her two gorgeous best friends, Jess and Casey. While there, her next-door neighbor, Wes, asks her about her friends. Jokingly she says it’s not her job to tell him, to which he explains to her the meaning of DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend.
Wes tells Bianca that every group of friends has a DUFF. Insulted at the suggestion that she’s Jess and Casey’s DUFF, she leaves the party. Meanwhile, she is assigned to write the homecoming article for her school’s newspaper.
Later, Bianca seeks out Wes for help, and asks him to help her become “dateable” in exchange for helping him pass science. After a series of embarrassing events, a video is released of Bianca talking about her crush on a boy named Toby.
Wes helps Bianca and she asks Toby on a date, to which he says yes. As a thank you, Bianca takes Wes to her special place in the woods called “Think Rock.” He kisses her, which is unfortunately caught on camera. Although the two obviously have feelings for each other, Wes brushes it off.
To Bianca’s dismay, Toby only agreed to the date to get information from her on Jess and Casey. She angrily leaves, and calls Wes to tell him what happened. He doesn’t answer his phone, so she drives to “Think Rock” to clear her head. There, she finds Wes and his ex-girlfriend, Madison, kissing. She heads home devastated and tries to write her article, but can’t find the right words to say.
Homecoming arrives and Bianca shows up with her friends. She tells Wes her feelings for him and he explains that he is back together with Madison. Madison sees them talking and confronts Bianca.
Bianca elaborates that she doesn’t care that she is a DUFF and she likes who she is. In the end, Wes kisses Bianca and they leave the dance. She writes her homecoming article about being a DUFF. She ends the movie by saying that it wasn’t about getting the guy; it was about how she accepted herself.
The point I’m trying to make with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that teen years are the hardest for students to find themselves. Everyone is stumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out who they are, and who they want to be. I’m sure most adults can remember the awkward stages of high school: trend-setting clothes, puberty, the discovery of the opposite gender — and trying to become an adult at the same time.
A lot of people today talk about the importance of just loving yourself and accepting everyone else, too. They don’t acknowledge that it takes a lot of work to love yourself and accept everyone. It is much like a pearl or a diamond. It takes years of pressure to make something that beautiful. Even models go through vigorous exercise, diets, makeup — and Photo Shop — before we see the “finished” product on a magazine. Nature has to go through erosion before it becomes the magnificent glory we see in pictures. What a lot of people and high school students don’t understand is that beauty only comes with a lot of hard work.
That is what the movie “The Duff” tries to explain. It’s not about everyone liking you, getting your love interest or the job you want. It’s about going to bed that night and thinking, “I did well today.” If we could just share that a little more, than more self-actualizing would go on in high schools.
Peatross is a senior at Tooele High School.