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Mourning Your Past Self

Awkward Years Project is a website on which people post photographs of their younger selves looking certain ways which at some point in their lives embarrassed them. Posting on this site, I argue, is not just for the entertainment benefit of others (as on, say, Awkward Family Photos), but also functions as a means of re-writing the past for the photographed in a way which allows the photographed to change her or his personal history (to some extent).

Tahneer Oksman’s “Mourning the Family Album” is an extended analysis of texts which work to mourn the deaths of those in the authors’ families through re-writing (or writing) photos of themselves, and can be used to understand Awkward Years Project’s photos in what is perhaps a less than obvious way.

The “restrictive constructions” (Oksman 235) of the self in old photos maintains and extends the “myth” of people having essential selves; that is to say, we can almost feel “stuck” seeing ourselves as past iterations in a photograph. On Awkward Years Project, what was awkward for the poster at some point is no longer so now, however, because he or she often re-writes the photo. Posters caption their photograph with a simple explanation sometimes, but often the narratives surrounding the earlier photos are revised by the poster in order for him or her to change what the photo “means.”

The photo in question is no longer embarrassing to the poster because she or he has come to understand that the past self seen in the photograph is “dead” in a sense, and the mourning process for the earlier self has completed its cycle. Part of autobiography involves re-claiming images of one’s self that were previously “written” in a particular way, and re-writing such photographs not only reclaims them but causes them to be seen from an entirely new perspective for the photographed: one in which they have some amount of control over their personal history.

Though Oksman’s case studies are of individuals’ attempts to deal with experiences related to the death of family members while Awkward Years Project’s posts are attempts to overcome much less traumatic events, the basic idea of moving on from a state of mourning, or “inevitably letting go of the past” (Oksman 243), functions in much the same way for both Oksman’s analyzed texts and many of the posts on Awkward Years Project.

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Awkward Years Project. Tumblr. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

Oksman, Tahneer. “Mourning the Family Album.” Auto/Biography Studies. 24.2 (2009): 235-248. Print.

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