Loving Your Awkward Phase

We all had an awkward phase. If you didn’t, you’re lying or still in it. I hit mine hard in 6th grade.


I wore boys goodwill Bermuda shorts everyday with a gray hand-me-down sweatshirt. My hair was to my waist and I always wore it in a ponytail, straight down my back. I took morning showers, so my hair stayed wet... all day. This means I spent all day with a big wet spot on my back. I wore knee high neon socks and Birkenstock shoes. I was unbearably weird.


I was going through a strapless bra phase that year. During the pacer test in gym class my bra slipped down to my ankles and I did not care. I was invincible and strange and I found my weird little tribe of friends amidst the struggle of self-identify and puberty. We were all freaks.


Within the next year, pressures of conformity weighed heavy on me. I started shopping at the mall, dieting, and even drying my hair. During that time and years after, awkward me was like Voldemort; she who shall not be named, discussed at family functions, or cared for. All pictures of her were to be destroyed or left in the depths of MySpace.


During therapy a few years ago, the therapist I described this phase to offered a radical idea. Accept her. She said perhaps even... have COMPASSION for her. I was shocked. It didn’t seem possible to look back and love that wet spot sweatshirt, those embarrassing clothing choices. She asked me, “What did she need?” Friends, love, to be different. Realizing that weird little Madison was just desperate to be seen opened up a tiny window for care. I thought about myself then.


Middle school was rough, not just for me. I thought of all of my peers just discovering how to use tampons, deodorant, trying not to let their hands sweat as they skated with their crush on Fridays at the roller rink. Bermuda shorts Madison is lucky to have made it out relatively unscathed.


Recently I started watching PEN15 on Hulu. The characters remind me so much of myself at that age. They are awkward and embarrassing and love each other deeply, awkward and all.


In one of the episodes I identified with most, the girls created aim usernames: Poshspice666 and diper911. I remember sitting at the living room desktop with my best friend at the time making sure my screen name captured the persona I wanted to portray. I wanted to seem interesting, fun, and talented. It was settled.


I’ll let you in on one of the biggest secrets of the early 2000’s. My screen name was hiphopmcm. But later, when my dancing dreams had died and the scene phase took over, madi0rawr0. I’m embarrassed to admit I use this email to this day for my social media accounts.


It’s hard to let that embarrassment go, but sometimes embracing those roller-skating, sweaty hands, knee high-socks parts of us is the most healing thing to do. Perhaps even showing them a tiny bit of compassion can make major changes.


When considering our cringe-worthy moments (and in some cases, years) we can ask ourselves why? Why was I like that? This question isn’t posed in a shame-driven way, but rather curiosity about what we needed. If we are able to uncover what we were searching for in those moments, we can almost go back and offer it to ourselves.


Sixth grade Madison, I hope you know I see you. Your neon socks and wet hair make you hard to overlook, good job meeting that need. Sixth grade everyone else, thank this universe that we made it through and life got easier.


I hope one day we all can look back and love those awkward versions of us, even just a tiny bit.