I was 13 at the time. I remember the structure of his perfectly chiseled chin. I remember his ocean-blue eyes, and I remember his large, masculine hands slowly and softly reaching for the hands that belonged to my friend. I remember watching him write his number on the back of her hand while he stared adoringly at her. Her other hand lay tucked behind her back, so as not to reveal the other numbers she had received moments before. He never once looked in my direction or even acknowledged my existence. I didn’t think he would. They never did. I, in defense, pretended not TO notice him either. I especially didn’t notice how his left brow very nearly concealed a tiny scar or that his jeans were perfectly cuffed at the bottom.
At 13 I was, as they say, the Ugly Duckling. I’d had 11 teeth pulled out of my mouth all in one fell swoop because my baby teeth refused to fall out. To this day I can’t believe my mother agreed to it. I was, essentially, toothless. The teeth I did have were covered in multi-colored braces that I chose to decorate according to the season. I wore Nike sweatbands around my head and my brother’s oversized Stussy shirts with jeans several sizes too large for me. I was so tall, skinny, and zit-faced, that one kid in my class used to say I looked like a chicken. Another actually once came up to me and started counting the pimples on my face. I wore foundation thinking it made me look prettier only to find out later from a makeup artist that the color I wore was shades too light and made me look like Casper. Why didn’t anyone tell me?
In college the syndrome mutated into a different kind of awkwardness. The braces were gone and the outfits more fitted, but I had gained 20 pounds, cut my hair off and dyed my mane a color named “Coca Cola,” thinking it looked really edgy. In retrospect, it just looked plain awful on me, and I am still baffled by the fact that no one sat me down for an intervention.
Now for most, like myself, being an Ugly Duckling is a temporary syndrome. But the problem is that there are crippling side effects of being an ex-Ugly Duckling that last well into adulthood. Even though around 20 years old I had started to blossom physically, I failed to see it because emotionally I was still that 13-year-old girl who had watched her friend get all the attention and never thought she deserved to get any herself. When a guy hit on me, I always thought it was a mistake or I couldn’t believe he was talking to me. I was sure he just wanted to be friends, or he was only talking to me because there was no one else around. Consequently, I put unworthy men on a pedestal and gave them way more power than they deserved. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how those situations turned out.
After a Pilates class recently, a few of my clients stuck around to chat, and we started telling our ex-Ugly Duckling stories. But all tales were met with laughs and camaraderie. These are incredible and very accomplished women who admitted that because of that phase of their lives, they were able to cultivate skills and talents that had nothing to do with physical beauty and that helped define who they are now. So when they did come into their own, they were so much more than the size of their jeans. Today they are smart, kind, thoughtful women who value themselves.
Truthfully, although I meet men and get my fair share of attention, I still sometimes feel awkward when a guy approaches me. I sometimes just completely shut off, which definitely sends the wrong message. It’s almost as if I’ve cultivated so much of myself beyond physicality that I actually get annoyed when a man approaches me just based on my looks. But he has to start somewhere, right? It’s the residue of the syndrome I guess.
At one point or another in our lives, we are all, physically, our worst versions of ourselves. It is a rite of passage into adulthood. One of the clients I spoke about earlier is a successful therapist. When talking about the Ugly Duckling syndrome, she said, “I’m still an ugly duckling, I think. I never did, or will, get THE guy. But I got MY guy and I have THE career and I love MY life. I’ll take ugly duckling any day of the week.”
Kit Rich is Los Angeles-based fitness trainer with endless exercise and nutritional know-how. Hollywood's hottest stars are addicted to Kit's unique, multi-disciplined approach that combines cardio, yoga, Pilates, and weight training. Kit's clients are immediately taken by her funny and honest approach to health and fitness. She treats her clients as she treats herself, "with a hard challenge, sensibility, sensitively, and a good laugh." Follow Kit on Twitter @kitrichfitness