Like countless other teens, Merilee Allred of Salt Lake City, Utah, had an awkward phase and grew up being bullied for her looks. At 35, Allred, a UX designer, was still so haunted by her past that she couldn’t bring herself to show her friend a photo of her younger, awkward self when she asked to see proof. “I had the pictures locked away and didn’t want anyone to see them,” Allred told GoodMorningAmerica.com. “I couldn’t just send my little fifth grade self out there without some moral support.”
That’s when her Awkward Years Project was born. Allred decided to take a portrait of herself today, holding up the snapshot from her awkward elementary school days. So far she’s taken nine portraits of friends and family members who have agreed to put their awkward selves on display to showcase how far they’ve come.
“I don’t want this to be a ‘Look how I got cute’ blog,” she said. “That’s not the message I want to put out there. I want people to relate to these and know they’re not alone when it comes to bullying. They’re all great people in the making. If my little idea can help just one person, it’d be worth it.”