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  • Writer's pictureShruti

The Ugly Duckling Feeling

This post is part of the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge hosted by WEGO Health. I will be writing a post a day for all 30 days. You can learn more about it here:

Today’s topic:

Ekphrasis Post: Go to and write a post inspired by the image. Can you link it to your health focus? Don’t forget to post the image!

This is the randomly generated image that appeared when I typed in the url. (The owner has disabled downloading of her photos, and I want to respect her rights, so you will need to click through to see the picture.)

One of the common stories I grew up with was the story of the “Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson. If you didn’t, here’s a quick recap: The “ugly duckling” is actually a cygnet/swanling, but the ducklings don’t know that so they make fun of him for being so ugly. In the end, the “ugly duckling” actually grows up to be a beautiful swan. He doesn’t know this and still thinks that he is ugly. Until the beautiful swans accept him, and he finally sees his own reflection in the water, when he finally realizes that he is a beautiful swan.*

In the picture, the swan seems to be looking at his own reflection in the water. Of course, I can’t read bird expressions, so I have no idea whether or not the swan likes what he sees. I do know that I don’t like what I see in the mirror. Meds can cause weight gain, and symptoms of joint stiffness, pain, fatigue make extensive exercise hard. This means being overweight is something I continually struggle with. To add to this, issues such as feeling like I am less than a fully contributing member of society (or at least not the way I always wanted to be), being chronically single, and often being unable to go out with my friends constantly erode my mental picture of myself. In the end, I feel ugly on the outside with the weight gain, and I feel ugly on the inside because I don’t feel like I have the social life and societal status that I wish I did. Trying to come to terms with these facets of my illnesses is something I struggle with daily. They chip away at my sense of self-worth, and I often feel like the “ugly duckling” when I compare myself to other people. Whether or not those people are actually judging me the way the ducklings judged the “ugly duckling” is open to speculation, and is therefore perhaps a discussion better reserved for a separate post. Regardless, I feel like they judge me that way, and that is what affects me.

The sad thing is, when I look at other people, I look for traits like kindness, compassion, and loyalty. I don’t see them as overweight or underweight or judge them for what they can or cannot do. Yet, I do judge myself for these things superficial things – and I judge harshly. When the “ugly duckling” meets the swans, they accept him into their fold. Just like the chronic disease community accepted me into theirs. Perhaps the rest of society would be willing to do the same, but I’m too scared to find out when the world generally judges the chronically ill so cruelly.

On a rational level, I realize that what I look like isn’t the only thing that’s important about me. I know that there are plenty of things about me that could probably be considered swan-worthy. On a rational level, I can recognize that I’m one of the swans. The problem is that the “ugly duckling” feeling is impenetrable to that common sense. Even though I know that I’m one of the swans, I also still feel like the “ugly duckling.” I can’t seem to reconcile the two, and so the “ugly duckling” feeling keeps feeding the self esteem battering going on in my mind. When I look in the mirror, my head knows that it should be seeing a swan, but instead it sees an ugly duckilng.

Was the “ugly duckling” really even ugly? Of course not, but the other ducklings kept telling him he was. The real tragedy is that he came to believe that he was. Of course, the “ugly duckling” didn’t stay ugly. He became beautiful, he just didn’t know that. Most people seem to think the moral of the story is about him becoming beautiful in the end, even if he was ugly in life. Maybe that’s what Anderson was thinking when he wrote it. I have no idea. In my opinion, that moral misses the point. I think the real ending of the story is when he actually believes that he’s beautiful. After all, who decided that swans are beautiful and ducks aren’t, right? The “ugly duckling” figured it out the first time he saw his reflection in the water. It’s taking me a few more glances at my reflection, I guess.

The point is that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if people think you’re an ugly duck or a beautiful swan. What matters is that you believe you’re a beautiful swan, and I hope that someday I’ll be able to believe that too.

*NOTE: There are different versions of the story, some more harsh than others. Also, there is all kind of speculation about the meanings behind the story in terms of definitions of worth and hidden meanings about his true father, etc, etc. For the sake of this post, I am taking the story at face value, and seeing it in the way that I saw it as a child. The recap is written accordingly. 

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