I suppose that I would be the perfect person to write a book about an awkward girl. For most of middle and high school years I literally felt like a misfit. I got over those feelings in college and never really looked back, but I was a remarkably empathetic middle school and high school teacher because I identified with students who were struggling to find their way in a world that often judges us by our beauty and physical prowess.
I was never homely but I was the epitome of a late bloomer. I was still under five feet tall until my junior year of high school. Curves and big hair were in during the era in which I came of age. I, on the other hand, weighed well under one hundred pounds and had legs so thin that they were often impolitely called “bird” legs. I was still wearing a beginner bra until my senior year. My fine hair never worked well with the big bouffant styles that all of the other girls seemed able to create with ease.
I never knew if my shyness came because of my nature or due to my embarrassment that i still resembled a little girl. Add to that my total lack of physical abilities and I was disaster in my own mind. I covered my flaws by hiding my head in books and making extraordinary grades. I pretended that I thought it was cute to be so small and physically underdeveloped. I made jokes about my inability to jump hurdles, throw balls, or otherwise excel in any kind of game other than those of the mind.
I doubt that most people knew just how ridiculous I actually felt. Later I would also realize that even the most beautiful and athletically inclined girls in my class had bouts of self loathing. Everyone it seems was trying to fit into molds that did not quite fit with who they were. Some wished that they had put more effort into studying like I did. Others worried about some physical aspect of their bodies that none of the rest of us ever saw. In fact I am rather certain that each of us was so tied up in our angst that we rarely noticed that those around us were suffering from reduced self esteem as well.
They say you can’t go back to do things over, and I doubt that anyone would want to do so even if given the chance. Those growing up times were painful enough to endure once. Twice would be horrific even with the glorious possession of adult confidence. Besides, times have changed and in all likelihood we would still find problems. They are an inevitable part of those very awkward years.
As a teacher I remember a time when two girls were sitting together at a table. One of them still looked very young but had the bones of someone who would become a spectacularly beautiful woman. The other had developed very early and was painted with an excess of makeup and false fingernails. A young man looked longingly in their direction and opined, “She is so gorgeous.” When I asked him which one he meant, he looked at me like I was blind and noted that the younger looking girl was a homely dog. After I chastised him for being so rude, I suggested that he look her up in a few years because I could clearly see how lovely she already was.
My prediction was one hundred percent on target. The girl who had been called ugly is now stunning to everyone who sees her, and not only developed physically, but went on to become a confident and successful doctor. I doubt that anyone who knows her now would ever imagine that she once came to me crying because she wanted be attractive like the other girls. She is magnificent now from the inside of her heart to her external beauty.
I often attempted to help young people understand that we go through those awkward years and then hopefully learn how to develop confidence and self-esteem. For some it is difficult to believe that adulthood really does bring about the changes that they desire. We are also in an era when bullying is almost a blood sport. We even willingly give power and admiration to adults who take joy in insulting others. Somehow it seems that it would be far more terrible to be awkward in today’s world when the abuse from others can be plastered online for all the world to see and hear. Back in my day the torment mainly came for my own lack of self-worth. I could joke and pretend that it wasn’t really there. Now I witness a more intense level of torture for kids who become a target of derision.
I slowly but surely learned to love myself exactly as I am. I still trip on my own feet, but it’s okay that I will never be a championship volleyball player. I am not beautiful, but I look nice enough. the hair is still a problem, but I make do with styles that work. I often wish that I were skinny again because my body has more than made up for my once mega thinness. I look in the mirror and really like the person that I see and I even remember the exact moment when I began to feel that way. I was in my very early twenties when I knew that I was fabulous just the way I am. It is very good to be able to embrace myself and then turn my attention on everyone else. There is always someone out there who needs some encouragement and love.