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Chip and Joanna Gaines prove again and again that they can do no wrong in the public eye. Since their early days renovating homes in Waco, Texas, to taking care of their multiple businesses and five kids, they’re one of the most successful (and busiest) couples we’ve ever seen. Life hasn’t always come easy for Joanna, however. And when it came to her teenage years, she had to navigate plenty of difficulties that have taught her the life lessons she lives by today.

Here’s what Joanna Gaines’ life was like in high school, including if she was popular or not.

Joanna dealt with bullying due to her mixed heritage early on

Joanna Gaines school picture
Joanna Gaines as a child | Joanna Gaines via Instagram

While the Fixer Upper star is thriving now, Joanna’s mixed heritage made her the target of bullying when she was younger. Yahoo reports Joanna’s parents had to move around a lot when she and her siblings were young — and “kids started noticing that I didn’t look exactly like they did,” Joanna said. Since Kansas wasn’t the most diverse state, not everyone in Joanna’s age group was open to the Korean heritage on her mother’s side.

She notes that the bullying was the worst in elementary school, as that’s when most kids understood she looked a lot different than them. And she was even bullied so badly that she had to eat lunch in a separate room. As Joanna notes in an interview with Darling, “Kids in kindergarten would make fun of me for being Asian and when you’re that age you don’t know really how to process that; the way you take that is, ‘Who I am isn’t good enough.’”

She hid in bathroom stalls during lunch in high school

As she aged, the bullying generally ceased — but Joanna was left with low self-esteem. As she told Darling, “I let that build up throughout the years. I was never completely confident in my skin.” By the time she was a sophomore in high school, she moved to Texas with her family — and now, she had to overcome the obstacle of being the new kid at a large school.

Immediately, Joanna notes she felt overwhelmed, especially when it came time to eat lunch. “So I literally walked in the lunchroom and walked out and went into the bathroom. My fear and my insecurities just took over and I felt like I’d way rather sit in the stall than get rejected,” she told Darling.

She still became homecoming queen, however

Joanna Gaines and Drake
Joanna Gaines and her son, Drake | Joanna Gaines via Instagram

While her first large high school experience left her feeling overwhelmed, Joanna does note that by the time her family moved to Waco (where she, Chip, and her parents still reside), she was able to gain some confidence back. And she also notes to Darling that she never had trouble making friends as a youth aside from her few instances of bullying and her lunchtime insecurities. In Waco, where her class was 28 kids total, she was able to connect with fellow students. “It was easy to make friends there,” she noted.

It seems other kids really liked Joanna’s warm personality, too. Yahoo notes they voted her homecoming queen. While the school was small, this proves she was quite popular with her classmates.

Today, Joanna hopes to help others who feel insecure

Chip and Joanna making handprints
Chip and Joanna Gaines | Joanna Gaines via Facebook

Even after high school, Joanna noted to Darling that insecurity followed her through college. But today, she uses her past experiences to help those who experience loneliness. “I discovered that my purpose was to help people who are insecure because I didn’t like the way it made me feel, in that stall; that’s not who I am. That’s not who I was made to be, but I let one stupid lie overcome my thoughts,” she said. Joanna also added that she’s “thankful for that pain and confusion and loneliness [in high school] because I feel like that gives me a heart for what it is I do now.”

Now, she hopes to uplift women with her story and help them see their own self-worth. Despite whether or not she was popular in high school or today, she knows she has a higher purpose to raise her children, love her husband, and help others — and to Joanna, that’s all that matters.

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