Sunday, February 1, 2015

School of Ugly Ducklings For The Win!

I was not an especially good looking pre-adolescent. When I was five, six, oh you could stretch it to, say seven, I was curly headed and large-eyed adorable. But when my eighth birthday party rolled around, had there been a Models-R-Us talent scout in attendance, they would have seen no reason to hang around for more than two pictures. Maybe they'd drop their card on the table on the way out but probably not.

My arms were long, my fingertips almost grazing my knees. My legs looked like matchsticks with marbles midway down. As true today as it was back then, my feet were too big for my height. Do some predictive foot  length calculations back then, and the charts read a potential adult height of 6' 2. My appearance, along with the square-toed black orthopedic lace-up oxfords my Doctor told my mother I had to wear to fix my pronated gait, made me look like a capital L.

I was skinny, knobby, with eternally startled eyes that took up half my face. The cherry thrown on top was that I was also hairy. Hair on my arms, my legs, my knees, my knuckles, my forehead. My eyebrows extended to my temples, and my hairline begged for a Ronco at-home electrolysis kit. Had you shown me a picture of Chewbacca back then, I may have secretly wondered, Daddy?

My mother was oblivious to all this hair and bones gone wild on her child. Too tall for my height, she would dress me in much too young for me swirly sailor dresses that barely ended at the top of my legs. She then had the nerve to have me top it all off with lace anklets The portrait would not be complete without a velvet bow the size of a Rain Forest butterfly slapped to the side of my head. Since my hair was too thick and curly to keep long, she kept it cut in short, tight ringlets that made me look like Oscar from The Office.

All this was as bad as it seems, for awhile. Back then I fretted daily about not sailing out of heaven on the boat called Good Looks. But, looking back from the safe and grateful distance of no longer being the long lost daughter of Chewbacca, I can see how the hand dealt me played out well.

There were many advantages to not being one of the prettiest girl in second (third, fourth, fifth, sixth...) grade.

I buried myself in books. I read everything. Books became my alternate world where I was the lead character and heroine. Had I been receiving invitations to go share a cherry coke with Tommy Boyer (oh, the daydreams of that blue eyed boy) at Rexall’s drugstore, I don’t think I’d have the time to go through 180 reading hours a week.

I studied hard. From all the reading I was doing, I was turning into a walking encyclopedia. I got the rep for being smart, and my expectations for myself formed - I was a smart kid. One who got As. I wouldn’t be the one asked to walk home with Brian Cahill, (I was always a sucker for a boy with long hair) but he sure looked for me at Social Studies project time.

Kids turned to me with their deepest, darkest secrets. With the every-woman-for-herself world of the beautiful and popular, who could these poor beauties turn to? I was the trusted one. I never would have imagined the pressure of not being able to ever be less than perfect until they confided in me. To hear their woes and angst of making sure they stayed the prettiest – I don’t think anything else made me more appreciative of being able to pass through the hallways unnoticed. Messy hair and all.

My best friends were boys. I got to know them as friends before they were to be boyfriends. They liked me. I was someone they could talk to without feeling nervous or having to be full of bravado. We could laugh together and they could ask me how to get Mary Morrisey to sit next to them on the bus for the class field trip (she chose me). I made them laugh; that right there, at a very young age, is when I realized it was pretty dang awesome to be funny.

I became funny. Best confident booster in the world.

There was no curse of being the ugly duckling growing up. It was kind of made for me, in retrospect. It suited me and made me what I am today; a pensive, intuitive, woman who writes humor. These spectacular benefits of growing up less than visually pleasing have not been forgotten by me.

It’s the very reason I made sure my children's first pair of shoes, were these:


  1. ha. um...those shoes...
    i was an awkward kid...skinny as a rail...i read a ton...instead of being funny i became scary to keep away the bullies and taunters....but a very similar journey...

    1. It's made us who we are. So fascinating.

  2. Always, I wonder what your angle is going to be--you are so gifted at taking Big Stuff and packaging it in a way that I am happy to consume. What you did here might be my favorite yet. You've just made me feel more grateful for a youth of feeling ugly, to boot. So good, Ms. A.

  3. You said it! I was an ugly duckling for a very long time and what was there to do (besides dream) but read and try to have an interesting personality? :-)

  4. This is fantastic. Thank you! I am trying to find a way to share it with my classes this week :)

    1. Wow, you make me feel like a million bucks! Thank you!



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