The Awkward Years

May 23, 2012
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Everyone has that one stage of their life that they view in retrospect with sheer horror and repulsion. I, like many others, am haunted by embarrassing memories from middle school. For girls especially, middle school contains such grimace-inducing milestones as growth spurts, experimentation with questionable hair and outfit choices, and struggles to discover one’s identity.

Before middle school, I was always at least a head and shoulders length taller than my classmates. As if the universe had decided that I was not vertically separated enough from the general population, I grew another eight inches within my first two years of middle school. It was like there was a rolling pin controlling my growth; I kept getting taller but my weight remained constant no matter what I ate. But back then, I had no concept of how ridiculous I looked because I was comparing myself with fellow students who also had their own physical oddities. Now, I imagine my middle school self resembling a Q-Tip since I had a disproportionate body to head ratio. The gawkiness of my figure was comically enhanced by the “fluff” on the Q-Tip: my frizzy hair suggested that I had not yet realized the wonder a hairbrush can do on tangles (resulting in triangle-shaped hair) nor that cleaning your glasses more than once a week was normal.

If my appearance didn’t turn you away, then the harassment that my “natural scent” did on the olfactory bulbs would. Throughout sixth grade my mother still had to remind me to bathe on a regular basis and wear deodorant. In seventh and eighth grade I moved past the body odor stage into the “wear-so-much-perfume-you-leave-a-trail” phase. I received a bottle of L’Occitane lemon verbena perfume for my 13th birthday that reminded me of fruit loops, my favorite cereal. With my faulty tween reasoning, I decided that if I could not smell the perfume on myself, no one else could. This logic caused the strength of my daily scent to waver from slightly irritating to creating an allergy inducing, eye watering moment for a friend’s dad.

Mirroring the overpowering amount of perfume I used was my personality. I tried to be both the class brain and class clown by offsetting the fact that I got straight-As with attempts at meaningless innuendos to get attention. I had no filter on what I said and I’m sure that made me a menace to anyone I came in contact with. During lunch one day, a boy asked my friend out on a napkin only to have me coat it in barbeque sauce in what I thought was a hilariously symbolic ‘no.’ I also went through a phase in which I could not carry on a conversation without inundating the other person with “your mom” retorts. I never seemed to get the hint that nothing I did was particularly funny (perhaps that part of me remains today), and when I actually did get a laugh, it was unintentional.

When I think about how embarrassing I was in middle school, I often wish that I could go back in time and change how I behaved. I have come to realize, however, that each second I spend dwelling on these unpleasant vignettes, I am avoiding the bigger picture: that every experience I have, good or bad, is helping to form my identity. I now know that there will never be a period of my life in which I am completely satisfied with how I handled a situation, so there is no reason to fret over what has already happened. But in no way does this mean that I ever want to have another time in my life as awkward as middle school.

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