I was not a super cute kid, and my awkward phase lasted from second grade to sometime around my sophomore year of college. In elementary school I was chubby with scraggly blond hair. In high school I had low self-esteem and a pretty intense case of dandruff. When I was younger getting called fat and ugly was a daily occurrence, and it was very rare for anyone who wasn’t my grandmother to comment on my appearance in a positive way (and even she got her jabs in every once in awhile).
Looking back, I’m not sure if I was actually so hideous, but I certainly felt like an ugly duckling, and one thing’s for sure: the word “beautiful” never figured into my identity. It took a long time for me to finally feel like a swan. Here are a few life lessons I learned along the way…
1. As far as insults go, “ugly” is not that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it sucked being called ugly, and I cried myself to sleep about it many times. After awhile, though, I came to realize what a meaningless insult it is. Someone doesn’t like the way my face looks? Someone is offended that my belly isn’t flat? Who freakin’ cares? If someone thought I was mean-spirited, lazy, or ignorant, things like that would hurt me, because those are accusations about who I am, not what I look like. Superficial insults are just that–superficial. Don’t let them cut you deep.
2. Don’t let others define your beauty. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. The definition of beauty is changing all the time and is dramatically different based on context, culture, and the ever-changing whims of the media. Being beautiful and staying beautiful can be a stressful and complicated endeavor. Being smart, funny, caring, and passionate–these things come from within. Being beautiful? Other people largely get to decide that for you, and if you consider your outer beauty to be your defining feature, there is always the possibility that it can be taken away from you.
But feeling beautiful? That’s a whole different story.
In a way, spending so much of my life outside of the “beautiful” category was kind of freeing. I never defined myself as beautiful because no one else did, but as I grew up and learned to love myself, I started to feel beautiful. That is something that no one can ever take away from me.
3. We are so much more than our appearance. I write about fashion every day. I love clothing and makeup and jewelry and all of the different details that go into our outward appearance and the image we present to the world. What I don’t love is the way we women are often treated as nothing more than their outer shell, and what’s worse–when women buy into this idea themselves. I have friends who are strikingly beautiful, who have always been beautiful, but have a hard time embracing the fact that they have so much more to offer the world than their looks. “People have always seen me as nothing more than a pretty girl,” one of my friends tells me, “and sometimes that’s all I can see, too.”
I hope that we all can see how beautiful we are, but more importantly, I hope that we can see we are much more than that.
4. Channel your pain into something good. Life isn’t easy for an ugly duckling, but once you’re on the other side of that experience, it is so valuable. Whether you express yourself in a creative way (I’ve made a career out of writing about my awkward childhood) or lend an empathetic ear to a kid who’s going through a rough time, use your experience to make the world a more open and compassionate place–for ugly ducklings and for swans.