We were the ugly ducklings.
At school, boys and girls teased us, bullied us, because we didn’t look like them. Maybe we had buckteeth or big ears. Maybe we were flat-chested or too fat. Maybe our skin was worse than usual or some unlucky feature offended the eye. Maybe we were all of this and more.
Our first boyfriend was a miracle. At least, that’s what it felt like. We were so grateful to him for seeing the real us, the beauty that was inside, that we clung to him. Until he dumped us for that prettier girl, whose hair/skin/face/hips were better than ours.
We hated all mirrors, avoided photos at all costs. We dressed to be transparent or followed trends to the letter, anything to blend in and not draw attention to our ugliness. We accepted that, maybe, good looks just weren’t meant to be. So we focused on our studies and pursued our talents. We felt good in our minds and, eventually, our skin. We smiled more and stood up taller. We gained the confidence to speak up and make ourselves be seen.
Before we could realize how beautiful we already were, boys told us how beautiful we’d become. They smiled at us across dance floors, looked us up and down like meat. We gorged on the attention, blushing dutifully at compliments then denying them playfully. Fishing and feasting on admiration and attraction. Thinking, finally – our moment to shine. Thinking we were in control now that our looks had caught up.
We obsessed over mirrors and selfies and the perfect concealer. We prayed our looks would never fade, because we remembered what ugly felt like, and it scared us more than anything. We dated guys even less secure than ourselves. We marveled at their beautiful bodies, oblivious to their ugly minds, and let them control and belittle, betray and demean us.
We wanted so badly for them to see the good in us that we saw only the good in them. They hurt us again and again and we went back for more. Until they were gone. Our heart was broken and we rebounded in revenge. We threw ourselves at men to prove we were still worthy of loving. Swiped through hundreds of faces, judging as harshly as we were once judged, in pursuit of impossible affirmation. The names and numbers wracked up, up and up.
We thought we were being strong. By chance we met a man who was beautiful inside and out. We knew it was only a matter of time before he discarded us – how could he not? We tried to cut him out before he cut us. But he would not let go and then neither could we. With every smile, laugh and question, he makes our mind, body and soul feel beautiful. So we continue to see the good in those around us. We feel compassion for those who suffer as we did. We know beauty is a state of mind and that our body and skins’ true worth are determined by what we think, say, and do. Until we look in the mirror.
Every day is a constant fight to look good enough – not for him or for those who may judge us, but for ourselves. We risk our happiness with insecurities that still haunt us. Our inner voice is now the one who bullies us. It is our inner voice who controls and belittles, betrays and demeans us. We realize we must change but not in appearance. We must change our minds and our thinking. No longer will we criticize our reflection. No more will we hate ourselves for doing our best. No more will we gauge our worth by first impressions and the outer shell that protects us. From now on we are worthy. We are more than hair/skin/face/hips and we are more than an image. We are alive and imperfect and we are beautiful. We were the ugly ducklings. But no one will ever make us feel ugly again. Because inside we are swans.