(RNN) – Remember that unfortunate "acne and braces and social anxiety and general gangly awkwardness" phase that was your teen years?
Designer and photographer Merilee Allred remembers hers well.
"I was a fashion victim of the late 80's, I still didn't have a clue how to do my hair and didn't have money to buy the latest styles. I had to wear glasses because of my poor eyesight. And I was very gangly and shy. And sadly, I was bullied in result," she wrote on her blog, the Awkward Years Project. "I came home crying on more than one occasion."
Having shed her teenage glasses and perm, Allred has grown up and left those self-proclaimed awkward years behind.
As for the proof the blonde 35-year-old actually had awkward years?
Her friends didn't believe her.
So she did what anyone would do – she put the photos up on the internet. For the entire world to see.
It's part of the Awkward Years Project, showcasing before and after pictures of some of her closest friends in their teen years and today – and soon, photos from a few million strangers from the internet.
But Allred wouldn't ask others to do what she herself wouldn't. So she became the blog's first contribution.
She said she had "a hard time showing what I used to look like because of always getting teased back then. But I figured if I can share that part of my past next to the person that I turned out to be, I can embrace my little nerdy self and be okay with it!"
Participants of the project share a photo of their current self holding a photo of their younger self. Each participant also shares what it was like growing up and how they overcame their awkward years.
Allred's friend, identified as Autumn, wrote "Throughout the course of my life … I had worn leg braces, had my fourth grade teacher lead the school line down the hall walking pigeon-toed to make fun of me, had worn an eye patch in elementary school and braces and a headgear."
In the years that followed, "I grew 7 inches taller, I lost weight, I got a job to pay for my own contacts, and overhearing the comments made about my clothing by my schoolmates inspired me to change the way I dressed."
Autumn grew up to model, become an entertainment reporter and work for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
She says she's proud because "I bore it all and the outcome isn't so bad."
Allred's friend Stacey wrote that she wanted "to fit in so bad and not understanding why I didn't."
In time, "everything turned out better than I could've ever imagined back then. I wish someone would've taken the time to really explain that it does get better."
And therein lies the point of the Awkward Years Project: to let teens know, with time, things do get better. And to help adults see those awkward years don't have to define who they are today.
"I want people to be proud of who they've become. I want youth, especially those who are currently going through a rough time, to know that they are great people in the making. I want to show them that their lives are only just beginning, to see their potential, and to not let bullies get them down," Allred wrote.
"I want this blog to show the 'aftermath' of my subjects, and how they not only survived their awkward years, but how great of people they turned out to be!"
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