If you’re lucky, those painful memories of the worst parts of high school fade away as you grow into a graceful, swanlike adult person. Not everybody can forget so easily, though, and sometimes confronting those memories directly is the best way to move forward.
Utah-based graphic designer Merilee Allred recently started putting together a photo series that puts the past in perspective. The Awkward Years Project collects before and after portraits from survivors of terrible haircuts and bodies not yet grown into, showing off who these folks were back then and who they’ve become. Each entry features the present-day subject holding up a picture of their former genetic or sartorial victimhood. The differences are often staggering.
"My friend and I were talking about our childhood, and I mentioned how I was teased and bullied over how I looked," Allred says. "She wanted to see proof because she could not believe I had such awkward years. I was hesitant about sending pictures because I was embarrassed by them. I felt like I needed to hold the picture, as if to hold my fifth grade self’s hand to get through it."
In Allred’s old photo, she appears tall and lanky, with frizzy hair, enormous glasses, and thrift store clothes before Macklemore made them a cool thing. Back then, she was called every name from "Four-Eyes" to "Gumby," and frequently came home from school crying. Looking back on pictures of this time now, and contrasting them with her current chic self, is a way to attend to those old wounds—and maybe those of others who can identify (aka most Co.Create readers, probably).
So far, the images on the Awkward Years blog are populated by friends and family, but Allred is open to submissions, which have begun to pour in faster than she can upload them. All that’s required is a picture and a short summary about what each subject’s awkward or bullied experience was like. So far, only one male has submitted—more are welcome—but the project was mainly conceived with women in mind anyway.
"I absolutely feel like females are teased and bullied more," Allred says. "From a young age, girls are judged by they looks: their bodies, hairstyles, and personalities. There is this tremendous pressure to fit in, look pretty, and have boys like them. Girls often view each other as competition—placing way more importance on getting boys to like them, when boys aren’t necessarily interested in girls just yet. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but this is what I was faced with in school."
See more pictures from the Awkward Years Project in the slides above.