Yesterday I saw Shallow Hal - a film I’d already seen many times. The entire premise of the film impressed me, and watching it again (with my new and improved mentality about beauty privilege), I thought I was going to start crying.
Hal is an average looking dude who likes above average looking women, which is his only criteria for approaching a girl. So when his perception is altered by Tony Robbins via hypnotherapy, he starts to notice the inner beauty of all the women he meets.
So, what I wanted to touch on precisely is what the film calls, “The Ugly Duckling Syndrome”. This is when a girl who grew up ugly, ends up developing a personality out of necessity. The character talks about how some girls are ugly for so long, when they do become pretty, they don’t even realize it. This is considered a rare but desirable find; an attractive girl with a personality who doesn’t know/believe herself to be good-looking.
All the ugly women are virtuous: volunteering with burn victim children, helping their sick grandmother, working at a non-profit for blind children. Overall, these women are funny, gracious and selfless. They’re just really, really ugly. So, despite how wonderful they are as people, men don’t seem interested in them.
In the film, Gwyneth Paltrow tells Jack Black that she knows what she looks like, and doesn’t appreciate it when he calls her beautiful. I know the feeling of knowing what you look like, and people not really understanding that. Of people trying to convince you of a reality you don’t believe in. Even though in the ugly duckling fairy tale, he eventually becomes a beautiful swan.
However, it’s worse when you see what it’s like to be born a swan, when you’re just a duck.
When I was in high school, participating in some sort of production backstage, a girl said to my friend, “You’re so pretty.” And at some later date told her that she earned her beauty, that she deserved it.
I remember when I much younger, and me and my best friend at the time had a crush on the same person. Our shared love interest knew, but ended up choosing her over me. I was devastated. Then one afternoon, he had written her a (love) letter, suggesting that maybe I was jealous of them. Of course I was! But my friend – blonde-haired and blue eyed – was significantly more attractive than me. I knew, even then, that I didn’t really stand a chance.
So as I sat there, tearing up at the not-so-great film Shallow Hal, I wondered if I would ever stop being a duckling, and become a swan myself. I try desperately to find other ducklings, but it seems few people like to admit to not being attractive. In a culture where “everyone is beautiful”, people are afraid of what it means to be a duckling, a sort of social pariah. Everyone wants to embrace their flaws, fall in love with themselves. I mean… that’s all well and good but…
Am I the only person willing to admit to being an ugly duckling?
How come the first step to self-acceptance isn’t admitting that we’re not all swans?