Ugly Duckling Syndrome: Why It's So Hard For A Late Bloomer To Find Love

by Jennifer Miller
The Walt Disney Company

We all remember the scene from "Shallow Hal" in which George — Jason Alexander to you, always George Costanza to me — says to Jack Black,

Ugly Duckling Syndrome, she probably didn't get pretty until high school, thus the personality had to develop out of necessity… sometimes they're ugly so long, when they finally turn pretty, they don't even realize it! The ugly self-image is so well engraved, that's a real find!

For me, that was one of those rare eye-opening moments.

By the time I finally watched this movie, I was well into my twenties (spoiler alert: I'm a late bloomer, I missed a lot of movies along the way), and was no longer considered a gawky teenager.

This quote not only explained the pain I went through when I was younger, but those lingering, residual moments of discomfort.

I went through an awkward phase until... about three years from now. Realistically, I'll probably be in an awkward phase for most of my life.

I was the kid growing up with braces, coke bottle glasses and ears that stuck out from my head.

I looked the part of the quintessential dork. No, not the suddenly popular hipster dork with overly-dark, thick-rimmed glasses, messy hair and plaid shirts.

I was the ill-fitting-pants-wearing, mismatched-socks-flaunting, always-book-reading dork.

I was the ill-fitting-pants-wearing, mismatched-socks-flaunting, always-book-reading dork.

In retrospect, I understand my pants weren't necessarily ill-fitting, I just hadn't grown into all my parts.

For the record, matching socks are an overrated luxury I've grown to abhor -- and that constant book reading got me a bachelors, masters and my dream job.

I'm not really an "ugly duckling" anymore. Actually, a lot of my friends believe this is a mere fabrication of mine, concocted from low self-esteem and a wild imagination with a hint of humility thrown in for good measure.

Yet, I still find myself waiting for the pig's blood to be dumped on me at prom.

Even now when someone compliments my eyes, skin or body, my face constricts into a pained look, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Memories of "you're pretty... pretty ugly" still ring in my ears long after I stopped associating with the bullies from my youth.

A deep distrust wove its way into my psyche after years of being told I didn't look quite like the other girls in my grade.

Taking time to get to know other people and see their true beauty is perhaps one of the best side effects of growing up with "Ugly Duckling Syndrome."

Recently, a friend said to me, “Do you ever look at ugly people and just pity them for how they have to get through life?”

With absolute honesty, I replied, "No." In reality, I still haven't been able to differentiate between whether I am one of those people or not, but I don't pity people because I don't think about it.

The burns from being laughed at as a kid still tingle in my daily life.

The burns from being laughed at as a kid still tingle in my daily life.

When a guy stares at me too long, I wonder what's on my face instead of assuming he's checking me out. If I hear a group of people laughing near me, I immediately picture them laughing at me.

Here's what's complicated about having "Ugly Duckling Syndrome," I have total confidence in my intelligence, my athleticism, my physical skill set.

I could always pick up a new sport fairly easily, read any book and comprehend it, excel in honors courses and make real strides toward accomplishing my dreams.

...But that guy who comes up to me at a bar and offers to buy me a drink? I'm lost.

When you dig slightly below the surface (as I wish my peers had done), you might see I wasn't a fat child who had to learn how to love my body. I wasn't a neglected child who had to learn to accept intimacy and love.

No, I was an "ugly duckling" who went through an awkward phase -- for a long time.

I'm as awkward now as I've ever been, but I've learned to accept it in myself and others for the blessing it is.