Whether you were the popular kid or the outcast in school, it's always a memorable time of your life to look back on. But for some, they'd rather forget, especially if they look back on memories of a time that was particularly tough to get through.
Photographer Merilee Allred was picked on as a kid, but rather than face forward and pretend it never happened, she chooses to look back. Her new blog, Awkward Years Project, showcases adults holding pictures of themselves at their most awkward teenage prepubescent stage -- resplendent with Coke bottle-lensed glasses, pimples, missing teeth and really, really bad hair. Allred says the project's focus is to showcase the difference between then and now and that no matter how bad it gets when you stumble through those dreaded years, it gets better.
HLN: What made you decide to start the Awkward Years project?
Merilee: My friend and I were talking about how awkward we were growing up and she wanted to see some pictures of me because she didn't believe I had any awkward years. Boy was she wrong! I was just too afraid to share any because I've always been embarrassed by my pictures because of how much I was ridiculed for the way I looked. I toyed with the idea of holding up my incriminating picture, as a before and after, as if I had to hold my fifth-grade self's hand. Then the idea was born!
HLN: How do you think teasing and bullying affect a child's self-esteem? How did it affect yours?
Merilee: It definitely affects a child's self-esteem because fitting in is so important to them at that age. As children, we are trying to figure out who we are, and unfortunately we believe so many of the bad, untrue things said about ourselves. Those same words can haunt us even into adulthood. I still struggle from time to time. Back in elementary school, I was teased mercilessly as being a "nerd" in every way shape and form. You know how someone who lost weight can still see themselves as fat? Same goes for being classified as a nerd. Sometimes, I still see myself that way.
HLN: Do you hope this project affects children, adults, or both?
Merilee: I hope this project affects everyone: Adults who have been down that road. Children who are currently going through it. Teachers in every grade. Even parents of bullied children. As adults, we all get past bullying and see that things can get so much better after school. As a child, it's hard to see past bullying and how great their lives can become. I want everyone to stand together and understand that things DO and WILL get better!
HLN: What would you tell your child self now, if you could?
Merilee: So many things! I'd give her a big hug and let her know that things won't always be this hard. Hairstyles change, glasses and braces come off. Popularity fades. Education and good friends are forever. You are a great person in the making. Don't let others decide that for you!