Do I Have the Ugly Duckling Syndrome?

If there’s one thing in particular that I’m very horrible at is accepting a compliment.  When I am confronted with a positive anecdote on my looks or anything else positively redeeming about myself–I immediately enter this long pause.  I don’t take it and run with it.  I don’t absorb it.  I become insanely awkward.

A few days ago, I had left the house in a disheveled state to run a few errands.  Who was I going to impress anyway?  I visited Target to grab a few things (and to eyeball their Halloween section).  Once I was done grabbing what I needed, I approached the cashier with my items for purchase.  As she began to ring my items up, she stopped, stared at me square in the face and said…

“I love your makeup.  Just know–I’m going to replicate it when I get home.”

I did probably the worst/most awkward thing I could have done in that moment–I began to babble how warm tones complimented my skin and that she should go for the gold…

I told this girl to ‘go for the gold.’

Realizing that I had transformed a nice conversation into an anxiety induced situation from hell, I kept my head down as I tried to quicken the transaction.  It was so incredibly awkward and strange as I hurried out of Target.  I had never walked so fast to my car in my life.  It was as if someone turned on a giant spotlight and decided to follow me with it.  And not to mention–it felt as if everyone was watching me as I left.  I sat in my car as the situation seemed to repeat itself over and over again.  Go for the Gold?  Really?  What the hell does that even mean?  Why couldn’t I just have accepted the compliment like a normal person?  Why did I have to make it go from normal to awkward in 3.5 seconds?  Well–I’ll tell you why…

I Have the Ugly Duckling Syndrome.


There is a children’s book that many are familiar with which is titled; the Ugly Duckling.  The story as told by Hans Christian Anderson recalls of a small ugly duckling, whom much to everyone’s surprise, transforms into a beautiful swan which is the most beautiful bird of them all.  The Ugly Duckling is supposed to be a humbling story about personal transformation…

I have the same issue.

If you’re a film junkie like myself, you may be familiar with the movie; Shallow Hal.  There is a scene in this film where they explain this particular syndrome.  And it has never resonated with me so hard…

“Ugly Duckling Syndrome, she probably didn’t get pretty until high school, thus the personality had to develop out of necessity‚Ķ sometimes they’re ugly so long, when they finally turn pretty, they don’t even realize it! The ugly self-image is so well engraved, that’s a real find!” —Shallow Hal (2001)

I know this quote seems a little fucked up, but I found it to be extremely honest.  It made so much sense.  I didn’t truly develop into my ‘looks’ till later in life.  I wasn’t exactly noticed till much later on.  And I doubt myself a lot because I’m still stuck in my youth where acne, baby-fat, messy hair and braces made up my overall appearance.  I was this nerdy tomboy walking around that developed a personality out of necessity.  I know that sounds fucked up–but again– it’s true.

Here’s something that’ll make your brain hurt–I can’t accept a compliment even if I tried.  In fact–sometimes–I’d prefer that I didn’t receive any compliment whatsoever because of the awkward, anxious shit that follows.  It’s as if I’m up at bat and the pitcher throws an insane curveball that’s on fire.  But sadly I can’t evade a compliment like it’s the plague.  I reply with a thank you and then I start having a Beautiful Mind moment in my head where I’m scribbling jibberrish in an attempt to rationalize that this compliment isn’t really a compliment towards me.  This person has got to be lying right?  And if anything this person probably isn’t wearing their contacts today.  I probably look like shit right now, fuck…

x+y=I never should have left the fucking house/stop staring at me+please make this moment stop.

The one thing that terrifies me even more than receiving a compliment is when I walk into a room and everyone is staring at me.  Immediately reverting back to my youth of horrible snickering and mediocre taunts, I automatically think that all this staring is negative.  Then this snowball effect begins to take place.  I start to think of all the horrible scenarios that could explain why everyone is looking at me… 

Do I have something on my pants? 
Does my hair look like shit? 
Oh fuck–is my shirt inside out again? 

I’ve never once walked into a room, and had this notion that I was the hottest woman in the room.  To be honest–I keep my eyes glued to the floor at all times until I’m out of the room.  And maybe that could partially explain why I have such a resting bitch face all the time.  I’m keeping that guard up that I’ve had up for so long.  Nobody is getting passed this pissed off exterior.

If you have to know one embarrassing yet truthful fact about me–I didn’t receive boobs until I was a sophomore in high school.  I always referred to my equipment as a ‘late shipment’.  It’s on its way but it’s delayed due to weather and traffic.  So, in middle school when it came time to get dressed into my clothes for Physical Education, my locker neighbors with breasts the size of watermelons wondered why I was going to play flag football braless.  Feeling embarrassed and almost upset with myself, I had to deal with the fact that I wasn’t like my female peers.  What I lacked in features that were labeled as ‘beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’, I made up for in athletics, academics, and humor.  I joined the swim team and cycling club.  I pursued my passion for writing.  I made friends where I could that enjoyed my interests.  And although I wasn’t like many of my female peers, I knew that I wanted to one day have those features that made them beautiful or desirable.  I always questioned if I would ever get there.  They were blossoming into women and I was just this awkward mesh of two genders.  Fast forward (years later) I got the most womanly figure imaginable.  I’m equipped with curves, long hair, and much to my surprise–clear skin (sometimes).  I’ve gotten noticed more now than I ever have. 

As I sit here thinking of all the things that my younger self dreamed of having–boobs the size of watermelons, curves, long hair, clear skin–I’ve realized that those physical attributes don’t last forever.  Boobs eventually becoming saggy and hair eventually gets damaged and falls out.  And honestly–nobody ever really has clear skin anyway.  My personality makes all my physical attributes pale in comparison.   

Beauty isn’t just an exterior feature.  And maybe–just maybe–I’ve been this majestic swan this entire time…



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2 comments so far.

2 responses to “Do I Have the Ugly Duckling Syndrome?”

  1. Salina Coria says:

    You're so my awkward soul sister, it's ridiculous! I also cannot take a compliment, any time someone gives me one I second guess it (Like an asshole) and immediately think they're being sarcastic or trying to make me feel better about looking like a squash with arms. It also stems from my childhood; constantly being compared to my gorgeous cousins, being "The White One" in a Hispanic family, having shit genes resulting in me looking like a small boy until i was 8, looking like a boobless marshmallow in middle school in a sea of preteen queens. UGH! I can go on and on. I felt ugly for the majority of my existence up until I decided to cut all my hair off and stop giving a shit about what anyone thought about me. I had spent twenty something years trying to keep up this image that I thought was the definition of pretty. It was ingrained in me since birth, my mom told me that short hair was for boys and that I would only be pretty with long hair. In the winter of 2015, I was in upstate NY and walked into a salon and told my hair dresser to cut all my hair off. She did, and it was magnificent. I cried as I ran my fingers through my short curls and buzzed sides, it felt incredible and I had never looked so beautiful! Every day since then, all the things that I used to fuss over became so much less important to me. I didn't have to spend and hour doing my hair anymore, so that meant another hour to spend cuddling with my sweet boyfriend every morning! He told me every second of every day that I had never looked more beautiful than I did then and my confidence shot through the roof. I began to wear less makeup and smile more often and everyone started to compliment my glow (Me? Glowing!?) I felt better and wanted to be better; my new found beauty has transformed me into the person I've never had the courage to reveal. I always find it so funny that the 1 thing my mom always told me would make me ugly (having shirt hair) is the thing that sparked me new found confidence. Be yourself, no matter what anyone says, you are beautiful because you are genuinely YOU.

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