Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The awkward stage

I've often said that you should never hold anyone's middle school years against them. 

No one ever says, "Man, why can't life be more like when I was thirteen? Those were the days..."

But when I say you shouldn't hold anyone's middle school years against them, what I really mean is "Please don't hold my middle school years against me." (Or high school or early college for that matter.)

I had a few things working against me. 
1) I had some pretty epic acne, which started as early as 5th grade. 5th grade is well before anyone else gets acne, so the other kids could smugly tease me for it, not knowing it was in their very proximal future.
2) Most of my beauty and clothing advice came from my three brothers. They taught me, for instance, that an "outfit" was one of their X-large T-shirts and some ill-fitting jeans. 
3) I was smart and shy. That meant I got straight A's but never learned how to, you know, talk to people. 
4) I had braces. Sure, lots of people get braces. But I had them in addition to #1-3. 

I was a disaster.

Those who knew me as a child might be confused. As you can see, I started life as quite the beauty:

But my promising start crash-landed around 7th grade or so...
I'm front and right. The only girl in the picture.
Confession: I discovered this picture as I put it in a photo album for my family. I touched-up my acne for the album (shhhhhhhh). In the interest of full disclosure for this blog post I had to un-do the touch-up.

It would be nice to go back to that girl and offer words of comfort. 

Such as, "There really is life after high school," 


"Someday you're going to marry a great guy who will tell you you're beautiful," 


"Don't worry, once that acne clears up you'll look like this:"

I couldn't find a current picture of myself, so I settled for a close approximation.
And yet, I can't regret those years.

They made me compassionate. 

They taught me to base my self-esteem on something besides my looks. So I tried to be nice to people instead (with varying success).

They taught me to value other people for something besides their looks. (Except Isaac. I definitely married him for his ruggedly handsome features...)

Also, I learned in college that a surprising number of amazing people I met also hide away their middle school pictures. 


It turns out that acne and bad hair happen to other people too. I was so busy worrying about the newest eruption on my face that I overlooked the vast number of fellow nerds around me. We could have been friends! 

These days, that old 7th-grader self sometimes resurfaces in new situations or in big groups where I find myself feeling awkward, or around a bunch of exceptionally good-looking people (because let's be honest, I never did get good at clothes). But mostly I've quit worrying about Ugly or Pretty. I don't think of myself as either one. And I don't think of most other people as one or the other either.

As for looks, one of my favorite moments was this past year:

No one expects you to look good an hour after childbirth. I was exhausted and sans makeup and had limp hair. I had just completed one of the most un-glamorous and un-attractive activities of my life. 

And I felt amazing.