Aug. 23, 2013 at 8:03 AM ET
When braces, glasses, acne and mean kids rule your world, it’s hard to imagine you’ll one day emerge as a confident, alluring adult.
Anyone who has ever gone through a geeky, self-conscious stage as an adolescent – and that’s most of us – probably hides any photographic evidence of those unfortunate hairdos, nerdy clothes and gangly bodies.
But Salt Lake City, Utah, graphic designer Merilee Allred -- a self-described “queen of the nerds” when she was in school -- wants you to dig those pictures out and show kids it gets better.
“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.”
Allred’s family moved frequently for her dad’s job, so she was often the new kid at school trying to fit in when everyone had already established their circles of friends. She remembers girls not wanting to let her into their groups, pushing her around and calling her names.
It’s been more than 20 years since that painful experience, but when a friend couldn’t believe she had a hard time in school and demanded “proof,” Allred realized many people have hidden scars from school.
So she started the Awkward Years Project, a blog that invites adults to pose with photos of themselves as kids, tweens and teens to show how they turned out. The results are often startling -- with girls turning into stunning women and boys becoming confident men.
Allred emphasizes the project is 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.
She herself was mortified about showing her picture, which she has kept mostly out of sight up until now, but hopes sharing it will mean helping others. She’s already heard from teenagers who told her the blog has given them hope.
Allred wishes she could tell her younger self, and all the kids going through a similar experience, that it does get better. She wants teens to know they are great people in the making.
“Try not to let the bullies get to (you),” Allred said.
“I just wish I knew that growing up because I never really thought about what I would be like as an adult and how these bullies and popularity contests don’t matter anymore.”