8.09.2012

Thoughts for Thursday: Essential Awkward Years

Well, I'm a little late in the game, but better late than never, I sometimes or hardly ever say.

These thoughts have been brewing for a while now.  As a teacher of 6th-12th grade students, I feel that I am especially aware of this issue.

I want you to think back to your awkward years.  That is, of course, unless you are still experiencing them; in which case you have my sympathy.  Think back.  My awkward years were from about age 9 until age 18, and then kind of again sporadically in college, but not quite as extreme.  If you're like most people, your awkward years were somewhere around those ages too, and they were terrible.  Maybe you didn't even feel that awkward at the time, but when you look back in your parents' photo albums, you cringe.  And not just because of the fashion.  We have to set fashion aside here, folks.  Awkwardness is enhanced by fashion, but it is ultimately intrinsic, because you could stick an un-awkward teen in ugly clothes and they could work those rags like nobody's business.

Let us examine this photo.  I'm pretty sure this was around my freshman year of college.  Ignore the horrible wash of baggy jeans, the baggy GAP sweatshirt with the TURTLENECK underneath (*shudder*).  My face has not become set in its bone structure and therefore has little shape but a very pointy chin.  There is uneven redness throughout the face, the eyebrows have never been plucked and lack shape, and the eyelashes have not discovered Maybelline Colossal mascara yet.  Also, the "bangs" are wavy, out of control with the cowlick, and there is zero volume.  Plus, what a nerd-- two cats on my lap.  Hahaha.

I'm not obsessed with outward appearance, but by pretty much anybody's standards, this girl looks awkward (and these are the later years... you should see around age 10!).  Yet I will say without a doubt, I wouldn't have it any other way.  If I could go back and completely change my looks and habits and erase the awkwardness from my past, I wouldn't do it.  Why, you ask?

Because I am a firm believer that the awkward years are essential for positive character development.

Not sure what I mean?  Let me illustrate with the opposite.  As a teacher, I see lots of adolescents each day.  There are still many who are awkward and grow out of it, and some who stay awkward forever.  But far and wide, I've noticed something today that's different from when I grew up.  Most adolescent girls don't go through the awkward years anymore.


I sometimes see 6th graders who are more gorgeous and glamorous than I am at 28 (maybe that's not hard to do...).  Most of the tween and teen girls I see are.  They're beautiful, and obviously spend a lot of time on their hair, makeup, and clothing.  I don't necessarily think they're bred prettier these days; I just think more is influencing them and more tools are available to them.  There isn't anything wrong with a 6th grader dressing nicely and putting on some lip gloss and doing her hair nicely.  I'm not saying that adolescent girls should ignore their physical appearance.  I'm just noting a marked change in adolescent girls today from back in my day.  Because I certainly was not the only awkward girl in my classes.

What I see in many of the girls today who haven't had to go through the awkward years is they begin dating early and attract a lot of male attention from the get-go, and that only increases as the years go by.  They never have to rely on anything besides their looks to get attention, and therefore they learn that their looks alone will get the attention they crave.  Their minds and souls sometimes atrophy as their physical appearance  is doted upon.  

I was usually too shy to actually do this, but if I wanted to get a guy's attention during my awkward years, the way I'd do it was to be really funny, or really smart, or really nice; those things got me noticed-- maybe only as a friend, but it was better than nothing!  And being awkward didn't hurt my self-esteem or give me some kind of complex.  Rather, it developed my mind, my sense of humor, and my relationship with God.  I couldn't count on my looks; I had to trust in God and use the gifts he gave me.  I think that's something that girls who skip their awkward years miss.  And I kind of wish they wouldn't.  

I believe every girl needs some span of awkward years before their beauty "unfolds."  I pray that if I ever have a daughter, her awkward years last just long enough that she develops her mind and soul, and when she becomes beautiful on the outside, that it would just be a tiny sliver of how beautiful her insides are.  

Just a thought.

xoxo, A