Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Writing Sample Wednesday: Ugly Duckling Syndrome

As many of you know, I am a strong advocate not only for children and families with special needs, but also for underdogs. People who don't always have the words or courage to stand up for themselves.

I know what that can be like, and there were a precious few who had the courage to stand up for me.

As I've talked about many times, characteristics like self-esteem and self-confidence are learned traits. You aren't born with them, they are taught and nurtured as one grows. And when these things take a blow, it can take a long time to re-build and it doesn't help when you already feel crappy about yourself.

Early in my writing journey, I was asked to write a piece for teenage girls on the subject of the negatives of striving for outer beauty as a main goal. As an Ugly Duckling Syndrome graduate (and still unsure if I officially graduated), I am here to say that outer beauty fades a lot faster than the more important stuff on the inside.

Here's the piece. Enjoy, share with someone in the same place and Happy Hump Day!!


I was an ultra-skinny girl with a boy’s physique and bad acne. My already weak self-esteem took a beating on a daily basis comparing myself to the popular girls with blossoming figures and peaches and cream skin.

“Don’t worry about it,” my grandparents used to say. “Your figure will come, and the zits will go away. But who you are on the inside will never change. Nurture that and forget the rest for now.”

Not exactly the words a teenage girl wanted to hear. But they have a point. My problem was I suffered from the ‘Ugly Duckling Syndrome’. The term stems from the children’s story about the little gray, ugly duck that turned into a swan. But, like a lot of other self-esteem challenged teens, I didn’t always turn to what I was good at or what was beautiful to carry me through the rough patch.

Here are a few handy tips to my fellow ducks to muddle through those times.

Stop looking through a magnifying glass. Most people don’t even see all the little markings we think are so obvious and neon. There is no such thing as perfection. Everyone lives with flaws, even those cover models out there. Putting up front what makes you awesome (eg: sense of humor, good nature, etc.) is the best cover-up available, and it’s free.

Focus on what you do best. Complaining about faults and focusing on the negative all the time hides the good stuff. Whether it’s drawing, playing the piano, singing or hitting a ball out of the park, turn to those things during the rough times to get through.

Follow the Golden Rule. This may seem old fashioned, but when you treat others with kindness, respect and love, that’s what you get back and what others remember. It’s those traits that don’t go gray or get wrinkled the way looks do.

Try looking up more often. Getting down in the dumps once in a while is human. It’s when you stay there that people grow tired of it. Focusing on that one positive thing can turn things around. Just saying, “I know these things hurt a lot, but I had _____ happen and it felt good.” It’s amazing the difference it makes in coping with the bad stuff when your attention isn’t completely on it.

Turn to a mentor. This can be anyone such as a friend, teacher, parent, counselor, pastor or God. But it should be someone who can offer perspective on the situation. Sometimes just being able to talk to another person who truly listens, especially when they’ve lived through too, is all it takes to stay strong. Never be afraid to reach out to someone offering to accept your hand.

Now that I have three girls of my own, and a beautiful boy, I finally understand the meaning behind my grandparents’ pearl of wisdom. They weren’t disregarding my feelings, but saying, “What’s on the outside fades while what’s on the inside stays strong forever”.

I’m still ultra-skinny, even after four kids, and I know I’ll never look like Pamela Anderson. But my acne finally went away leaving me with the beautiful skin those other girls had. I have a strong, unbreakable spirit and a kind heart, which were there with me the whole time. Those traits grew stronger, while the ugly duckling slowly faded away.

I guess my grandparents were right. My swan was always there. It simmered below the surface, waiting for my confidence to grow, so it could shine bright enough for others to see.

And your swan is there too. Let it shine.

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