The very wonderful Gareth Powell has written an open letter to ugly ducklings. I needed to read that today (actually, I needed to read it a long time ago, but today will do).
It’s odd that I’ve been thinking about the ugly duckling narrative in media over these past few days and then Gareth posts this. I’ve not mentioned anything on Twitter, so it’s clearly a crazy random happenstance.
I’ve worn glasses since I was very young. In those days it wasn’t cool. I got name called at school. You know the ones. It got worse when I hit my teens. I’d greasy hair and skin that defied shampoo and spot creams. Horse riding made my thighs too thick, genes my shoulders too broad. I’d no breasts to speak of. I dressed masculine because dressing feminine just highlighted the fact I wasn’t a girly girl. I was an ugly duckling.
When I was in secondary school, the soap Neighbours ran a storyline: Melanie, the quiet, mousy girl with her hair in a ponytail and thick glasses on her face. An ugly duckling. Then she got contacts, had her hair done, and hey presto! A swan was born. People told me I should do the same. Told me that I’d be pretty. And I fell for their lies.
There was far too much I needed to “correct” to be conventionally pretty. It hurt me to realise that, but it also released me because I stopped being with people that expected that. I dropped “friends” who weren’t, really; the ones that kept me around because I made them look good. But it took me years, decades, to reach the point where I reclaimed myself.
I’m still not there. I still wonder what the hell H saw in me that day in college. I still hesitate in putting my photo online (my Twitter avatar has rarely been me). I was terrified by the panels at BristolCon this year, just as I was last. Hopefully next year, I’ll go on stage with my head held high. It’s something to aim for.
Because I’m not a swan. But Gareth is right and it doesn’t matter. I love what I love, and the people I’m closest to share that love. I didn’t need to pass a beauty test to geek out about Doctor Who with Paul Cornell. What I’d done was far more important to Cliff Simon than how I looked.
These are the things I cherish, and need to remember more.
Thank you, Gareth, for reminding me of that.