Most high schoolers’ woes are similar. Whether it be driver’s test anxiety or prom dress distress, teens share a core set of generational stressors—except for the students of Calabasas High School.
The youngsters of the infamous Los Angeles enclave navigate a very different set of adolescent issues: the cataclysmic fallout of Kim blowing up your secret salad spot on an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the trials of trying to win the affections of the child actor in your class, the difficulties of working with a diva dog in your school production of Legally Blonde. While those may not seem like quotidian high school experiences, 21-year-old Via Bleidner has done all of it, and more. Bleidner offers an unfiltered, thoughtful, and witty insider’s perspective on the suburb that birthed the Kardashian-Jenners and the Bling Ring, and examines the ugly underbelly of fame in her debut memoir If You Lived Here You’d Be Famous By Now: True Stories from Calabasas, from Macmillan.
Bleidner, a native of Woodland Hills (a porn hub of the San Fernando Valley), spent her entire young life receiving a Catholic education, where she was highly encouraged to sign a virginity contract and was sent to the principal’s office for “discriminating against gingers” after posting a meme on Facebook. The sole member of her insular middle school class to break away from her non-secular education, Bleidner was thrust into a world where teenagers drove BMWs home to their gated communities, minors got lip injections, and everyone who’s anyone had a SAG card. To cope with her new environment, Bleidner adopted the journalistic stylings of Cameron Crowe, determined to Fast Times her way through Calabasas High by chronicling every detail of her high school experience. “I was coming from a super sheltered Catholic school, so I felt really unprepared for high school,” she says. “So I figured that maybe I could separate myself from how scary it is to just be there.”
The idea of the Valley Girl has existed in many iterations, the most common being a denim skirt-clad, gum-chewing, vocally fried mall-dweller, à la Julie Richman and Moon Unit Zappa. But since the dawn of the Kardashian-Jenner Dynasty, circa 2007, the Valley Girl has morphed into another being entirely, and her name is Kylie Jenner. Bleidner’s classmates would boast of Kylie sightings like Bigfoot and tracked her every move on social media. Being geographically close equaled being adjacent to her success. “She’s breathing the same air as us, she’s living in the same weather. When it rains in the Valley, a rarity in itself, we remember that Kylie’s probably staying inside today,” offers Bleidner. “The same rain that we’re looking at is gathering in her gutters, dusting her three-thousand-dollar lace-front wig when she pokes her head out the window to gauge the temperature.”
To the students of Calabasas High, the youngest Jenner was a mythical figure, a sheltered princess who descended from her guarded Hidden Hills tower in her matte black G-Wagon chariot to bestow her newest Lip Kit upon the plebeian masses. Kylie’s proximity in age to Calabasas students automatically pinpointed her as the most attainable of the KarJenners. “I know it’s stupid… but I feel like me and Kylie would really click. Like we’d definitely be friends,” Bleidner recalls a classmate confessing at a sleepover.
In the essay “Don’t Eat the Oranges,” Bleidner examines the makeup mogul’s social media facade of accessibility after being dared to knock on the door of Kylie’s estate. “I think of the way she addresses her fans on social media, like she’s a friend,” she writes. “That’s our girl Kylie. She’s one of us. She’s a Calabasas kid and she’s kicking ass out here, and if she can do it, if she can date rappers and wear Valentino and tweet all day and make money, we can too.”
Bleidner spends the latter part of the essay wondering what to say when you show up on the doorstep of someone who has been building an airtight persona since before she was even 10 years old: “What can you say to someone who has never known a normal day at school? Who’s never had to accept her own flaws? What can you say to someone who, quite possibly, could be the loneliest girl in the world?”
“What can you say to someone who, quite possibly, could be the loneliest girl in the world?”
Bleidner hasn’t firmly made up her mind on whether or not Kylie is deserving of sympathy or schadenfreude. Though she admits that “nobody is giving her a philanthropy award,” Bleidner believes that Kylie’s physical transformation is a bizarre social experiment in a manufactured reality, a symptom of a much larger issue. “I think the fact that she looks so different from how she did when she was still a teenager has really, really frightening implications,” she says. “I think that most women have struggled with body image and I think having…