This is me at the end of seventh grade. Peep those frizzy locks, so gracefully accessorized with those curlicue bangs. The overgrown eyebrows. That smile, with it's spazzy right incisor, too wide, attempting to hide the despair imminent in having its picture taken. It is a face that, much like its owner, limbos somewhere between childhood and adulthood. This is me at the height of my "awkward phase," that predominantly middle-school phenomenon characterized by regrettable hairstyles, experimental fashion, imperfect complexions and corrective orthodontia, condemned by most to have its pictures burned and memories eradicated. I, being generally unlike most people, take issue with this purge of awkward. Upon my own (albeit reluctant) reminiscence of my preteen years, I realize that there is a lot to be said for being strange-looking at some point in life; in fact, I would go so far as to recommend it – it results in a depth of character that is difficult to achieve in the absence of some struggle. Allow me to explain.
Around age 10 or 11, I lost much of the juvenile cuteness with which I had been blessed since birth. My previously wavy hair gradually became violently curly; breakouts suddenly graced my forehead and chin; pre-growth spurt pudginess stole over my once-athletic frame. More psychologically, this unfortunate metamorphosis coincided with the jarring move from Oregon to Georgia that shattered my childhood vivacity and left me emphatically resistant to change in all its ways, shapes and forms. Thus, while my peers began to experiment with colored skinny jeans and hair dye, I stuck with the boxy t-shirts and notorious bangs that I had been rocking since fourth grade. This decidedly awkward fish was me when I first entered the rabid, appearance-conscious shark tank that is the junior high hallways.
I would like to say that I didn't think twice about my appearance during those three years, that I was focused on more important things, that I was totally comfortable being myself and didn't feel the need to change in any way because I was awesome. I would like to say this, but I would be half-lying. While I was devoted to the more academic aspects of school and while I did find it in my power to rise above the vapid drama of the day, I also found myself drawn to the less admirable, mysteriously consuming focus known to most middle-school girls: middle-school boys. More specifically, how to attract them. My draw to this force was largely in secret – I gave all appearances of not being one to care about boys or what they thought of me, which is perhaps part of the reason that they didn't. But the truth was that I cared as much as any other girl, and the fact that I didn't get as much attention as any other girl was a source of endless aggravation for middle-school me. Here I was, smart and funny and largely low-maintenance – basically perfect girlfriend material – and it was all I could do to get a second look. Why? All evidence pointed to the fact that I wasn't pretty. And because I was immature and insecure (and middle school is an environment that fosters both immaturity and insecurity) a part of me lamented the fact. But the part of me that would grow to be an adult took it and ran with it.
What ensued was a three-year exercise in character building. In realizing that beauty wasn't my speed, I discovered what was: a pretty remarkable intellect, a knack for making people laugh, an ability to listen that made up for my reluctance to talk, an eye for what was beyond our little middle-school bubble. I knew that someday, when we all grew up, what I was developing now would matter. Of course, the knowledge of the infinitely more meaningful world beyond couldn't completely stave off my insecurity. There were times of jealousy and resentment and loneliness; many times I wished to be someone other than myself, someone blonder and thinner, namely. But gradually, these times became fewer and further between, and I realized that being blonde and thin can put you in a pretty bad place at that age. If I didn't have need of my brain or sense of humor, if a pretty face could have gotten me through those troubled years, I would have given them up in a heartbeat. Herein lies the importance of the awkward stage: it results in a whole person, with a whole personality. When you can't count on your face, you create an identity behind it that is worth the effort of creation.
As I enter college, I am reminded of entering middle school. It is the same jittery feeling of being unprepared and under equipped. This time, though, I am armed with the confidence that I could not have known in middle school, the kind that can only arise from some form of struggle. My battle and consequent peace with awkward made me the well-rounded person I am still surprised to find myself today, as I suspect it has for many other upcoming freshman like myself. So to all of you that are ashamed of your regrettable middle-school self, go easy. You may owe them more than you think. For all of you still struggling with your awkward stage, know that it will come to an end, and that you will be so much better for it. And to all of you that have seen the other side of awkward but still feel its echoes as we move forward, I can't wait to meet you. We all have something to say in praise of awkward.
Lead Image Credit: pixabay.com