If you had told me when I was 12 that my reflection in the mirror would ever do anything besides make me burst into tears, I would have thought you were just adding facetious insult to injury. Me in middle school was not my thing. I didn’t like my hair, my smile, my body or my prospects.
Thankfully I came out on the other side at some point and I look back on that time with a lukewarm smile, because, of course it gets better.
Merilee Allred is a Salt Lake City-based graphic designer who had her own share of misgivings as a kid. The self-proclaimed “queen of nerds” from grades 3-7, she was clueless about how to dress and style herself. She pulled out of it by eighth grade with the help of some loved ones, and while she was telling her tale to a friend recently, she found herself needing to show proof that the graceful swan she blossomed into was once a hapless duckling.
Cue the Awkward Years Project. Allred made her friend promise not to show the photo to anyone, but then she realized the picture was over 20 years old, and the past was still affecting her.
“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. I wanted to take a picture of myself then and now, as if I had to hold my fifth-grade self’s hand before giving it to my friend.”
The project — to have people in the present hold up awkward photos from their past — is an effort to let others know how far they’ve come, and how they’ve healed and reconciled those insecure moments in life.
“I want to show them that their lives are only just beginning,” Allred said, “to see their potential, and to not let bullies get them down. 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.”
Take a look:
All images used with permission from Merilee Allred
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