In this article, Tamara shares the 5 lessons she learned reading a 175-year-old story which help us tackle the age old question, “Why am I so ugly?”
Why am I so Ugly? 5 Lessons Learned From an Old Story
An old story we should revisit and reapply 175 years after it was published.
Did you know that an average of 10,000 people per month search the following two phrases:
- Why am I so ugly?
- Why am I ugly?
That averages out to about 120,000 people per year. Wow! Those numbers only include the amount of people who have typed the question into their browser.
How many people have thought those very questions?
Probably every single one of us if we are completely honest.
So, if you have ever felt ugly — you’re not alone. This problem is so enormous, it begs us to examine the causes and possible solutions.
Causes of the Ugly Problem
The causes of this challenge can be as long and as varied as the individuals themselves. A few causes could be:
- Social media and the touched up, perfectly posed we constantly compare ourselves to.
- The unkind or critical words of “friends” or family members.
No matter the cause, it is a problem and a challenge which touches each of our life of the lives of those we love.
May I propose 5 Powerful Solutions or Lessons to this chronic, pervasive problem which I found in a 175 year old children’s story?
Perhaps this isn’t a new problem after all.
The Backstory of this ‘Good Old Story’
In the year 1842, an author was living at the country estate of Bregentved in Denmark. While enjoying frequent walks at the estate, he had an epiphany and the beginnings of a story began to roll around in his mind. He spent almost a year writing his soul into the tale which he later confessed was more of an autobiography.
When British journalist Anne Chisholm wrote about this Danish author’s biography centuries later, she described how he was so perfectly able to explain the sentiments of being “ugly” and bullied. “[He] himself was a tall, ugly boy with a big nose and big feet, and when he grew up with a beautiful singing voice and a passion for the theater, he was cruelly teased and mocked by other children.”
The “Ugly” Story
On November 11, 1843 this bullied Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, published his story, The Ugly Duckling. It has since gone into the annals of history and has even been adapted to various media including a musical, an opera, and an animated film.
But what makes this story so relatable, so loved that we are still singing about it and making movies about it over 175 years later? Perhaps it is because it gives us some of the keys to solving the “ugly” problem.
The Ugly Duckling Synopsis
The story begins with a mother duck sitting on her nest wishing her eggs would hatch. The ducklings begin to emerge, but the final egg — the largest one — produces a big, ugly and gray duckling.
Unfortunately the ugly duckling is bit, bullied, and laughed at by the whole farmyard with increasing frequency. Even his siblings join in the bullying and teasing.
Unable to bear it any longer, the ugly duckling runs away. In the world outside the farmyard, he discovered many different animals who wanted him to be and act like them. But in order to be accepted or have value, but he had to do things like purring like a cat or laying eggs like a hen. He thought he had no worth.
After a long, cold, and starving winter, the duckling finally stretched his wings and rose high into the air. He flew on until he found a large garden where he saw three beautiful swans.
As he humbly approached the magnificent swans, he finally saw his reflection in the water — he had become a “graceful and beautiful swan.” To his bewilderment, he was loved and accepted as the youngest and most beautiful swan.
The 5 Powerful Lessons
1. Understand Your True Worth
Toward the end of the story of The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen shares this amazing bit of wisdom:
“To be born in a duck’s nest in a farmyard is of no consequence to a bird if it is hatched from a swan’s egg.”
Once the ugly duckling realized who he really was, all of the trauma and bullying he went through was “of no consequence.”
He was a swan. Swans were birds affiliated with royalty. He realized the reason he had never fit in the barnyard was because he was regal and royal. It just took him some time to figure out who he really was and that he really mattered.
Dieter Uchtdorf said, “You are not ordinary, rejected, or ugly. You are something divine — more beautiful and glorious than you can possibly imagine. This knowledge changes everything. It changes your present. It can change your future. And it can change the world.”
In a recent podcast interview, Jeff Steinberg, who was born without arms, simply stated, “God makes no mistakes, and God makes no junk.” He continued, “God has a design that’s bigger and better and we have value that goes beyond appearances.”
I too grew up being bullied and it took me a while to come out of my shell and realize my parents were right — I had value as a daughter of God. It took me a while, but I eventually realized I was unique and loveable despite my imperfections. And slowly I have healed and grown in confidence — just like the ugly duckling.
2. Get Away From Negativity
Outer Negative Voices
Due to the awful bullying, the duckling ran away from the farmyard in which he hatched. Now, I am not suggesting that people drop everything and run away from their situations, but perhaps establishing healthy boundaries is necessary — and so is getting away sometimes.
Special note: If you are in an abusive situation, please get help! There are free resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline where you can text or call to get help at 800–799–7233.
New York Times Bestselling author, Richard Paul Evans, once explained about his vicious elementary school teacher who wanted to erase the greatness out of her students. His advice about people who are negative in our lives was, “Don’t listen to them. Don’t give them that power. Don’t wait around for people to validate who you are because you’ll be waiting a long time.”
I recently read an anonymous quote which said, “Cutting people out of your life, doesn’t mean you hate them, it simply means you respect yourself. Not everyone is meant to stay.”
We also need to be careful that we aren’t the one being verbally critical of ourselves. One of the crazy things about raising teenagers is helping them go through those self-destructive moments when they are trying to figure out their worth. They say stuff like, “I’m so stupid…dumb…ugly….”
I have quickly found my retort to be, “Don’t speak about my son (or daughter) that way!” And then I reaffirm his or her worth.
Inner Negative Voice
An interesting twist on negativity can be for us to take a look at inner criticisms in our own minds. We need to become defenders in our minds when negative voices shout in our ears or in our head.
I recently shared one such tactic on my podcast, Stories of Hope in Hard Times. This idea was to write these negative statements down and then burn, shred, or tear them up. I have tried this tactic and it is liberating! The trick is then to start replacing the negative with positive statements or comments like these:
- I deeply and completely love and accept myself.
- The more positive I am the more beautiful I become.
- Everything will work out for me.
- I am a winner.
- The tools I need to succeed are in my possession.
Like the duckling, I invite you to begin your journey away from the negative thoughts and people in your life and choose to move toward positivity.
3. Quit Comparing! Discover Your Beauty & Worth
One interesting scene in The Ugly Duckling takes place in the home of an old woman who owns a cat and a hen. When the duckling wanders in seeking shelter, the cat and hen tell him he will only bring worth and value to the world if he can purr like a cat or lay eggs like the hen.
Of course, these things are absolutely ridiculous things to ask of a male duckling.
Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
How many of us try to act, dress, or be like other people — even when our gifts or abilities don’t match? We tell ourselves things like, “Maybe if I curl, cut, or style my hair like them I won’t be so ugly.” Or, “Maybe if I spend hundreds of dollars on my clothes I will be accepted.”
May I share with you something I learned many years ago about comparison?You see, I have two sons with autism and I kept comparing what normal families did with what we couldn’t do (like go on family walks). The comparison made me sad because I knew we would never be considered normal. At the point of my greatest despair, I learned a secret which has helped me overcome this comparison.
- I am normal for me.
- My children are normal for them.
- You are normal for you — and that is the way it is supposed to be.
Here are some amazing quotes I found about loving yourself for who you are and valuing your unique value in this world:
“Fitting in allows you to blend in with everyone else, but being different allows you to be yourself, to be unique and to be more creative.” — Sonya Parker
“What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden and it’s not. And a lot of the time, it’s what makes you great.” — Emma Stone
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” — Judy Garland
Jeff Steinberg made this wise observation, “If you define yourself by your appearance, having no arms or whatever, again, you’re defining yourself all wrong and you’re missing the opportunity to see who you really can be. We all have a story–wrong side of the tracks, bad breaks, poverty. But your story provides the foundation for who you become.”
So, dare to be you — and be the best you possible! The duckling knew he couldn’t purr like a cat or lay eggs like a hen and he left that cottage. Don’t worry about everyone else and their talents. You are uniquely wonderful and normal for you! Develop your own gifts and talents and your confidence will slowly grow and blossom.
4. Get Moving
Once the duckling had survived the long cold winter, he “felt his wings were strong, as he flapped them against his sides and rose high into the air. They bore him onwards.” He finally landed in a better place.
The interesting thing about flying (or exercising) is that it gets the body moving. There are amazing benefits to physical exercise, including the natural release of endorphins which give you a ‘natural high’ or boost in confidence.
Here are a few fun quotes I found about exercising:
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” — Jim Rohn
“For me, exercise is more than just physical — it’s therapeutic.” — Anonymous
“Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do. Not a punishment for what you ate.” — Anonymous
“When it comes to health and well-being, regular exercise is about as close to a magic potion as you can get.” — Tich Nhat Hanh
I recently started a new workout program at age 46, and I am amazed at how even accomplishing baby steps daily of improving my body increases my self-esteem.
And believe me, there is a reason I work out in a corner of my home. I am sure others would find it quite comical if they saw me try to follow dance workout moves due to the fact that I have never been blessed with the gift of physical coordination. But I found I do better at exercises like yoga or simple repetitions which build my muscles (slowly).
I’ve got to start where I am if I ever want to improve.
And, you can begin to exercise too. Try it. Stretch your proverbial wings and fly!
5. Cling to Hope: The Future Will Get Better
The final sentence in the story of The Ugly Duckling is, “I never dreamed of such happiness as this while I was the despised ugly duckling.” He found a home among his own, and they treated him with kindness and he finally felt accepted.
The moral of the story is, don’t give up. Life will get better.
Dieter Uchtdorf explained it wisely when he said, “Our destiny is greater than we can imagine. If only we understood who we are and what is in store for us, our hearts would overflow with such gratitude and happiness that it would enlighten even the darkest sorrows with the light and love of God… The next time you feel unhappy, remember where you came from and where you are going. Rather than focus on things that dampen your thoughts with sorrow, choose to focus on those things that fill your soul with hope.”
There are going to be times, when like the duckling, you and I will feel we have hit rock bottom. Thinking of life continuing in your current situation makes you dread the future.
At those moments of greatest despair, cling to hope! Hope that life can and will get better — even though you cannot imagine it at the time.Dutifully place one foot in front of the other and move forward with hope and faith.
One thing which is constant in life is change. So, you will not stay at rock bottom forever. Life will change. It will improve.
I regularly interview people on my podcast to find out how they got out of rock bottom and lessons they learned along the way. So, I’d love to share with you some of my favorite quotes on how they kept going in their rock bottom moment.
Favorite Podcast Quotes of How to Keep Going:
- “Focus intently on what matters most…we all need to continually have reminders and even wake-up calls that help us refocus our energy into the best life has to offer.” Jerald Simon
- “I don’t function on my own. I need God.” Megan Kroff
- “Grief and loneliness do not remain as raw. It does get better.” Judy Cromar
- “You are never, ever alone. Don’t sit alone and suffer! You deserve joy!” Rebecca Christians
- “Life teaches us lessons, and the lessons are going to get harder and harder until we learn what the universe has in store for us.” So ask, “What do you want me to learn from this?” Brad Neufeld
- “We all have things in life that are in front of us whether we like them or not. The only thing we get to choose is how we react to any given situation.” Alan Smith
- “So even though I had the fear and the doubt and the anxiety and the stress I still had a plan to execute on every single day.” John Lee Dumas
- “I’m identified as the guy who has no arms, has gimpy legs, but he sings. But that doesn’t define me. But given the opportunity, my circumstance or my story can refine me. It can make me better, not bitter.” Jeff Steinberg
- “Just remember to breathe. It’ll all work out.” Wendy Andersen
- “Watch your language, because literally everything you say you bring to pass in your thoughts and your words. So look for the positive. Focus on the positive.” Kelly Walker
- “During those times when it’s dark and it’s really hard to see the light, keep things in perspective. Life is cyclical.” Richard Paul Evans
In conclusion, if you are having a day, week, month, year or life where you feel ugly, you are not alone.
I invite you to choose to remember and act on these 5 lessons we learn from Hans Christian Andersen and his story, The Ugly Duckling.
- Understand your true worth.
- Get away from negativity.
- Quit comparing and discover your own unique worth.
- Move and exercise.
- Cling to hope that life will indeed get better.
Which one will you begin to do today? You are worth it. You can change.
Life will get better, and you aren’t ugly after all. You’re a swan.