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Screenshot Awkward Years Project
Featured and guest submitters on the Awkward Years Project.com. People on the site explains what their awkward years were like, and how they molded them into who they are today.

The awkward years are a time of cringe-worthy photos and painful memories. But those years, and what we learn from them, are the focus of the Awkward Years Project, created by Salt Lake City-based graphic designer Merilee Allred.

“I wanted to start a project that highlights our awkward years,” Allred wrote on her blog. “I want people to be proud of who they’ve become. I want youth, especially those who are currently going through a rough time, to know that they are great people in the making.”

The idea of creating the blog sparked after Allred shared one of her own awkward photos with a friend who didn’t believe that Allred had a nerdy past.

“I sent her a picture. But I made her promise not to show anyone,” Allred wrote. “I realize that picture was taken 20+ years ago, but the past still affects me. You know that mentality of overweight people who have lost so much weight but they still see themselves as fat? That’s how I feel. I may look normal now, but I still see myself as an awkward nerd.”

Thus, the Awkward Years Project was born. The blog shows a person holding a past photo of the person's “awkward years” as well as a brief explanation of how that stage shaped them into the person they are today.

“When I pulled out the picture that I was going to be photographed with, I grew very nervous. I had joked with my friends in Utah about that teenager in Northern Virginia, but none of them had ever seen a photo or could really picture what I described. Showing this photo would make all my stories real,” said Autumn Thatcher on her personal blog. “They would bring back that girl who I have tried so hard to escape. The one who was chubby, wore glasses and braces, was picked on by her peers for being overweight or wearing high waters.”

But the blog is not about comparing looks to see how attractive people grew up to be; rather, the focus is on experiences and growth.

“I find that everyone is beautiful, then and now. This isn’t a ‘Look how I got cute’ blog, nor am I saying that people’s awkward years are ugly. Not at all! Braces, glasses, or unfashionable clothing do not make anyone less attractive,” Allred wrote. “This blog is more than about appearances. This blog is about self-discovery and surviving our awkward years. Most, if not everyone I have blogged about so far, are not only proud of who they are now, but they are even proud of who they were back then. It just took awhile for most of us to realize it.”

Many contributors felt a sense of healing in writing about and displaying a difficult time in their lives.

“Writing about my younger years of awkwardness and feelings of insecurity was surprisingly therapeutic,” Thatcher wrote. “If I could go back in time, I would visit my younger self and tell her to not listen to the mean things the other kids say. To not feel ashamed for being different. To walk with my head high and know that it gets better and so do I. And that when push comes to shove, I am stronger because of my experiences.”

Allred’s efforts aim to help youths gain a greater perspective in seeing that what they are going through now can positively shape who they become in the future.

“I want to show them [youths] that their lives are only just beginning, to see their potential, and to not let bullies get to them,” Allred wrote. “It’s the differences that set us apart from everyone else and we should celebrate that. Great and many things are in store for all of us. I want this blog to show the ‘aftermath’ of my subjects, and how they not only survived their awkward years, but how great of people they turned out to be!”

Abby Stevens is a writer for the DeseretNews.com Faith and Family sections. She is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University–Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].