The Awkward Years Project Teaches Kids That Real Beauty Comes From a Flat Iron

The Awkward Years Project was created by Utah-based graphic designer to show that even the most graceless among us will eventually find their balance. The Tumblr features short anecdotes and photos of attractive subjects holding awkward childhood snapshots. However, despite the project’s good intentions, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is that while some awkward kids cross over into attractiveness, the rest do not.

Putting aside the fact that the site lacks diversity (granted, Utah isn't the most diverse state, but as you scroll through Awkward Years Project's posts, you'll see few variations of skin tone, hair type, body shape, or gender), it ignores the fact that there are many people for whom the “awkward years” are still ongoing. Awkwardness can be a lifelong affliction, and it has nothing to do with looks, grooming, or personal style. The outward trappings of gracefulness can't always mask years of low self-esteem. Putting on makeup or wearing expensive clothes can even exacerbate the feelings of insecurity that linger beneath the surface.

There are plenty of people who can't stop being awkward because their brains won't allow it. Last month, Psychology Today ran an article about several autistic people who find that they have a quick wit on paper that dries up in person. One woman, Brigianna Spencer, noted that, "In person I tend to be a walking bundle of awkwardness oozing big fat gooey drops of awkwardness from every pore. ... I'm told I’m almost eloquent in writing but when I start to talk, I say things like 'that thing that goes with that big round thing.'" Unfortunately, many of those who interact with Spencer in person will miss out on her cleverness because of her inability to conform to social expectations. Some people are irrevocably awkward, but that does not mean they are any less worth getting to know, or that they should strive to change. 

I think a viable alternative to erasing awkwardness is to embrace it. Instead of prettying up and pretending those pimply kids never existed, we should incorporate our humble beginnings into the people we are today. Doing so will increase our empathy, and keep us grounded. It's fine to try to look your best, but your identity should not be wholly dependent on how you look.

Fortunately, awkwardness is slowly becoming the new normal. TV characters like Jessica Day from New Girl, George Michael Bluth from Arrested Development, and Hannah Horvath from Girls are role models for those of us in our 20s who are far from having it all together. Getting comfortable in your skin doesn't end when puberty does. It is a lifelong journey of knowing your real self, and loving it, warts and all.

The message to young people going through their "awkward phase" should be: yes, look your best, but do it because you want to take care of yourself, not because you want to be accepted. You may not grow up to be picture perfect, but you should love yourself either way.