‘Awkward Years Project’ Reaches Out To Kids With Images Of Happy Adults

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6C8686675-autumn.blocks_desktop_medium__1377352559_142.196.156.251At first, the “Awkward Years Project,” rubbed me the wrong way. After seeing the guest submissions, I’m kind of in love with it.

Utah, graphic designer Merilee Allred was a self-described “queen of the nerds” when she was in high school, what with her frizzy hair and large glasses. But now she is an adult with a flatiron, contact lenses and makeup and she wants kids to know that one day, they’ll be able to straighten their hair, get rid of their glasses and become conventionally good looking, too. I’m joking. That was my first impression.

“I was bullied and teased over how I looked,” Allred, 35, told TODAY Moms when recalling her tween and teen years.

“I was probably one of the tallest in my class so I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was clumsy, and because I was shy and very quiet, I couldn’t stand up for myself so I think I was just an easy target.”

So she started the Awkward Years Project. It’s a blog that invites adults to post before and after photos; one as an awkward teenager and another as a stunning adult. She claims it’s “not about boasting ‘look how much better looking I got,’ but gives people the chance to take pride in who they are and how they survived those years.”

At first I thought, Seriously, is this progress? Is this helping kids with their self-images, or just making it very clear that happiness is directly related to how attractive you are? Then I looked at the guest submissions. In picture after picture, adults look radiant and happy. It’s not about what is conventionally good looking. It’s more about, Hey, I had a hard time in high school too and now look at the smile on my face! The “about” page describes it pretty well:

Remember the years between being a cute kid to the awesome person you are today? I’m talking about your awkward years. I want to share a collection of people sharing their most awkward years and show how great of people they turned out to be. To all of you who are struggling out there, and those that love before & after portraits, this project is for you!

There is something nostalgic and wonderful about it. I might submit a photo, too.

(photo: Awkward Years Project)


  1. AlexMMR

    August 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    I look almost exactly the same, but wow is my life happier now.

    I discovered that chronic sleep deprivation due to sleep apnea was the cause of my debilitating depression. The things I enjoyed in high school but was embarrassed about (hours alone in the pottery studio, being a drama geek) are the things that adults now want me to teach them because it’s just so cool that I can do them. I’ve learned that I’m not socially deficient because I’m an introvert. That my one or two friendships bring as much to my life as the dozens of friends bring to a social butterfly. I’ve learned that drama and passion are two completely different things, and one of them is not worth having.

    I hope to teach my daughters these things early in life.

  2. Cee

    August 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I see it more as an “it gets better” project directed at teenagers who may possibly be having a bad time based on their appearance or their lack of support for their interest. I think it shows that while high school may be a big deal right now, it will pass and eventually be a small blip in your whole life and that after it you can find not only yourself but people who wont be jerks and accept you for who you are. Just, basically, be happier in your grown up life.
    I would submit a pic but I think I have gotten rid of all my teenaged pics. I really felt like those were terrible years from me, look wise.

  3. Momma425

    August 24, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    I don’t think they would let me participate.

    High school: hot swimmer honors student.
    Post-high school: overweight teenage mother who works full time, doesn’t buy makeup anymore, and works too many hours just to make ends-meat. Happy, because of the Prozac.


    • Simone

      August 24, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      I bet there’s something great about you.

    • Haradanohime

      August 25, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      Not everyone’s “Awkward years” are in High school. Some start much later in life. Some start earlier. Some regress into awkwardness later on. You’ve just not gotten over the awkward stage yet. I should know since I’m at the awkward stage still too.

  4. SusannahJoy

    August 25, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Yeah, I was a funny looking, awkward teen. And now I’m a damn hot 30 year old woman!

  5. Shelly Lloyd

    August 26, 2013 at 6:19 am

    I was ok in high school, was kind of a cute rodeo-cow girl. I was smoking hot in my 20’s. But now approaching 40, I’m a puffy 40 year old mom of two teens. LOL. No MiLF here.

  6. Alex Lee

    August 26, 2013 at 10:47 am

    The pictures may be worth a thousand words but the essays themselves are phenomenal. Lots of people transitioning from awkward to, not just happy, but confident and comfortable in who they are.

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