If anyone understands the concept of the glow-up, it’s me.

My middle and early high school years were a period I now refer to only as “the dark ages,” a time of excessive eyeliner use, heavy metal music, an aversion to wearing any color other than black and hiding from the sun in order to stay as pale as possible. Growing up in South Florida, to say that I stuck out would be an understatement.

Years have since passed, and I’m now essentially unrecognizable compared to this previous self. While I’m thankful that I’ve left my cringiest era far behind, I’m also appreciative that I ever went through that stage at all. Stubborn as I was, coming out the other side made me stronger.

Janelle Neary younger phase

As young women, we have so much pressure on us to look and act a certain way, especially in today’s social media-obsessed landscape. We feel like we have to hide any unattractive phases we may have had, but this just isn’t realistic.

While I’m glad to have left it in the past, there are a few reasons why I’m grateful for my awkward phase.

First, it let me not care what others thought. As a lifelong people-pleaser, this time was a strange diversion where I actively tried to go against the norm. My look was the complete opposite of my bubbly personality, allowing me to discover the kind of person I was regardless of how others perceived me.

On a much more basic level, it also taught me a lot about the world of makeup. Growing up before the age of YouTube tutorials, we were left without any guidance and without a beauty blender in sight. Forget about contouring—girls my age were typically found with a stark line that separated their two-shades-too-dark foundation-ed faces from their necks.

Meanwhile, I was more into the heavy-handed eyeliner and pale-skinned vampire look. It was self-expression at its finest, and these days I’m just grateful my mom never actually let me touch a bottle of hair dye for years (I can only imagine the inky black disaster that would have been). At the same time, however, I taught myself how to use makeup, improving my skills over time and continuing my love for it. Now it’s just a part of who I am, only these days I’m much more willing to leave the house bare-faced.

The biggest reason I’m grateful for this cringe-worthy phase, though, is because I learned to move past my insecurities. In our image-obsessed society, it’s so easy to fall into a cycle of nitpicking at what we don’t like about our appearance and trying our hardest to change those things. The reality, however, is that no one is perfect and that what you perceive as a flaw might be something someone else doesn’t notice or may even covet. I had so many insecurities from comparing myself to impossible images from the media, and it took years to get over them. Looking back, I only wish I could have told myself not to put so much energy into hating things about myself that I couldn’t change and that never should have bothered me in the first place. Confidence is so important to every part of life, and I gained so much through growing up and out of this stage.

Overall, our teen years are going to come with some awkwardness no matter what. Stubborn as I may have been that it was “not a phase,” I could not be happier that that is exactly what it turned out to be. It’s humbling to admit we’re wrong sometimes, and these days I find it funny when people remark on photos of me during that time in disbelief.

I’m grateful for my glow-up, because these days I see girls growing up all too soon and it makes me sad. Keep rocking whatever style makes you you, and don’t let anyone shame you for it.

Janelle Neary with coffee cup

I learned a lot from this experience, and I only wish everyone knew that it’s okay to: just be you, not look like an Instagram model (they don’t even look like that), be a little bit “weird,” express yourself however you like and not embrace the trends of your peers if you don’t want to.
My awkward phase is a part of my history that I now embrace, so don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about yours.


If you found this article relatable, click HERE to find out why another of our writers is glad she never had a boyfriend in high school.