I am a nerd.
No, really. Don’t let the love of stilettos or generally perky personality fool you…. I am that kid that you picked on, ignored or hated in high school.
It’s funny how most of us can name exactly who we were in high school, much like an opening from The Breakfast Club: punk, freak, brain, popular. But how many of us would hold the same exact label to who we are today? For the majority of us, words like “mom”, “wife”, “teacher” and “friend” would be what comes to mind (and if not, you might want to ix-nay on the John Hugh’s marathons for awhile).
Even though I am completely different from who I was as a teenager, there is still that tiny teen inside of myself, who always feels like gloating when I do something cool. Did I successfully introduce myself to someone without tripping over my own words? Awesome (I should be the President). Do I manage to style my hair without looking like a poster child for frizz cream intervention? Done (I should be a supermodel).
Regardless of how awkward our teenager years were, it’s hard not to worry about our children going through the same painful stages. My husband, for example, likes to complain that he went through an awkward phase growing up (amid a busy schedule of school ladies man and football star), but he is completely mistaken. His tough patch consisted of one too many bad bleach jobs and a white guy ‘fro (circa Backstreet Boys), with a fleeting moment in which his height hadn’t yet caught up with his weight. I, on the other hand, make his “awkward phase” look like a grace period. Mine was complete with years of multi-colored braces (and an Expander that made me talk with a cartoon-esque lisp), a Proactiv infomercial worthy complexion (which didn’t go away until I did, in fact, start using Proactiv), relentlessly crazy hair (and significant lack of awareness about serums), and makeup application techniques that could have only been inspired by Tammy Fay Baker (hello tarantula eyelashes).
Though it may be hard to believe, I was actually a big part of the punk and ska scene growing up (complete with old man plaid pants from Goodwill, large wallet chains, blue streaks in my hair and the odd tendency of “skanking” when there were lags in conversation). It wasn’t until I realized that it took just as much energy to choose artfully rebellious clothing at Hot Topic as it did to actually bathe on a frequent basis, that I knew that my personality had grown out of any kind of label. (Yes, that’s right inner brooding teenager, you sold out!)
The funny thing is that people continue to underestimate my personality when they meet me (it doesn’t take a genius to figure out when people think you’re the farthest thing ever from a genius), and it’s partially because I don’t wear my intelligence, accomplishments or bitterness on my sleeve. Just because I don’t flaunt my hardships or challenges in life, does not mean my experiences are lacking. Although the definition of naivete might come from a general lack of common sense or awareness about your surrounding environment, I may have masterminded the one and only form of manufactured naiveness.
It’s this simple: I don’t want to assume the worst in people before I’ve gotten to know them. I don’t want to show how tough I am within 5 seconds of an introduction, nor label others because of the large void of designer labels in their wardrobe. And frankly, I don’t want to let my life experience soil the way that I view the world, and I hope it doesn’t for my children either. Of course, it’s hard to admit that there is always a part of myself that worries about the awkward stages my girls will endure too. How will my oldest feel when all of the other girls are flat ironing their hair in high school and tapering off at 5’3″, and she has enough curls to make Tina Turner and Beyonce look like Gwyneth Paltrow, and enough height to make Gwyneth Paltrow look like Danny Devito?
Maybe the real trick is not in avoiding the difficult years, but truly embracing them. If I hadn’t spent so much time being ignored and avoided, perhaps I would have never become such a friendly person, or learned to genuinely love meeting new people. If I hadn’t realized that the labels I had set on myself (like “goth” or “punk”), were just as confining as attempting to fit in without labels, I would have never started to simply be myself. And maybe if we never had that tiny, moody teenager inside of our brains always doubting ourselves, we would never learn to appreciate how far we’ve come as adults.
I might be a nerd and my husband might be a popular football player (attempting to get awkward phase credit where none is deserved), but I know that one day my girls will wake up and realize that the labels society and peers have placed on them, mean nothing as long as they love the labels they’ve placed on themselves.
Because even if we’re a little bit naive or a little bit bitter, I know exactly who I am now:
A mom, a wife, a teacher and a friend.
Who are you?
Bailey Vincent Clark is the Editor-in-chief, author and founder of Makeover Momma. She talks about Mealtime Makeovers on Monday, “Speedy Advice With Makeover Momma” On Wednesday, and has a weekly column on Friday: “Getting Friendly With Makeover Momma.” If you would like to ask questions, submit concerns or simply chat: please email firstname.lastname@example.org.