Photo Credit: courtesy of Leslie Goldman
I have a theory that cuteness in high school is inversely proportional to long-term success in life. The concept is loosely based on the fact that a not insignificant number of the most popular kids in my graduating class either got knocked up and had to drop out of college early, or currently work as party promoters. It’s all about peaking early: If everything comes easily to you during your teen years because your peers are drawn to or intimidated by your flowing blond locks, bangin’ bod or rad car, there’s not much incentive to develop your personality or hone some real-world skills. My mom used to promise me that the dorkiest boys would go on to find cures for cancer or lead powerful corporations -- and she was right. You think Bill Gates was captain of the football team? Of course he wasn’t.
Similarly, I did not spend my youth snapping up votes for Prom Queen and stowing them in the back pocket of my Z Cavariccis. True, by my senior year, I had definitely blossomed, but the years of fourth to seventh grade were not all that pretty. I had braces, glasses, a bad perm, and a mole on the apple of my left cheek that looked like Cindy Crawford’s prettier, better-placed mole had taken a tiny poop there. And I was pudgy. Not gigantic, but bigger, rounder, softer. I now realize this was the result of my budding hypothyroidism -- I used to go on week-long diets where I’d only eat lettuce and spend hours doing Denise Austin leg lifts in the den, but would never shed a pound -- but at the time, I simply thought I was destined to be fat. And when you're 12 years old, that’s about the worst thing you can be.
So you can understand why I became filled with glee when I heard about BeforeYouWereHot.com The site is a place for former ugly ducklings to post images boasting of their swan-like development. Creators Anne and Melissa got the idea when they were one day looking through old photos and realized how "insanely awkward" they looked. "We were laughing so much we knew we had to share them," Melissa told me. "Then the idea for an ‘after’ shot hit us, and we thought it would make a fun site."
The result is like a giant eff you to anyone you called you a dork, a wimp, a freak. Sweet revenge against anyone who "moo"-ed at you or ripped on your headgear. Even if you weren’t ridiculed, but can look back and feel properly mortified by your cuffed jeans, hypercolor top or hairsprayed bangs, this site is for you. "I think people want to share their awkward years because they're hilarious to look back on, and it helps us recognize that we all had that stage," Melissa explains. "Of course, it's great to prove that you came out okay on the other side, too!" That said, it’s not like you have to be Megan Fox to post. BeforeYouWereHot.com proclaims “’Hot,’ in our terms, is a state of mind. If you feel it, we feel it!”
Carrie Seim posted an absolutely amazing photo of herself in the kind of outfit many of us wore but wouldn’t in our worst nightmares ask our own children to wear. "In middle school, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call 'popular' with the boys,” she wrote in an accompanying mini-essay. “I was more what you’d call 'extremely unpopular with the boys' or 'socially awkward' or 'leper-like.' I rocked the school's lunch patio in over-sized glasses, a freakishly bad perm and color-coordinated skorts and tights. The only time boys spoke to me was during an after-school engineering club. So when my 7th grade English teacher asked us to write an essay about an injustice we had experienced personally, I chose sexual harassment. Naturally. As you can tell from this photo, it was a huge problem for me."
You may not be surprised to hear Carrie now earns her living as a professional comedian and writer, regularly contributing to The New York Post, BettyConfidential.com and GuySpeak.com. I wrote to her and asked her what made her decide to post that incriminating shoulder-padded-blouse-tucked-in-skorts photo. She told me, “My philosophy is that I am laughing ‘with’ -- not ‘at’ -- my middle-school self. My middle-school self, however, feels I should STFU [shut the f--- up] and take a hard look at my current wardrobe, hair and eyewear if I want a good chuckle. [But] when I look at my 'after' picture, I feel kind of like Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30. I have the body, the wardrobe, the dream job and Samuel Ball as my douchey boyfriend. But there’s also a part of me that knows I’d be better off with a skort, oversized glasses and Mark Ruffalo.
I posted my fifth grade school portrait -- complete with matching denim scrunchie, earrings and shirt -– and encourage you to do the same. The web community there is generally friendly and supportive, and as founder Melissa says, it’s nice “to revel and laugh at our former awkwardness.” Go show off your hotness…and laugh at the junior-high misery of your peers. Then post your submission on Facebook so all of the losers who teased you as a kid, then friended you as an adult, can eat their hearts out.
Did you ever go through an awkward phase? Chime in below.