The Ugly Duckling as Gender-Neutral Beauty Ideal

‘The Ugly Duckling’ provides a lesson in beauty and acceptance for everyone, regardless of gender.

“The Ugly Duckling” was, ironically, about a male bird, written by a male poet, Hans Christian Andersen, who was a tall boy who felt uncomfortable in his own skin. I get that. But in this case I don’t know that it matters. Gender is beside the point.

The bird in the story has to go through hell and back because he doesn’t fit in. And superficially he is damn ugly. Just when he is about to throw in the towel, he saddles up to the most beautiful creatures he has ever seen on the theory that dying at their hands is better than continuing to live.

To his amazement they embrace him with open arms. Even more amazing, he realizes he is one of them: a swan.

♦◊♦

Isn’t this the ideal for which we all strive when it comes to beauty? We all have the ugly parts we have to confront again and again. We all feel alone in the world at one time or another.

And then one day we not so much emerge as beautiful on the outside, but we begin to radiate a sense of belonging from the inside. We finally realize there is a place for us on this planet, a spot that has been waiting all along. We see that our fears have been nothing but shadows.

Our society continues to accelerate in pace. More and more is done on the Internet based on skin-deep, split-second impressions of external attraction. We are all getting further and further from the hard earned beauty of the ugly duckling. Kim Kardashian reigns supreme.

Why work to find your place in the world when you can have plastic surgery and have virtual sex with the man or woman of your dreams?

If beauty is about really knowing another person—and knowing yourself—I sometimes wonder, “Does that even happen any more?”

♦◊♦

Think of how a parent feels about a child. It absolutely doesn’t matter what that kid looks like to the rest of the world. When she smiles or laughs or dresses up for her first date, there is no one more gorgeous on the planet. The surface of the thing is informed only by knowing what resides underneath. That kind of gorgeous is more true than the battle of the dresses in People Magazine.

How about we replace the word “beauty” with “love.” I love you for all that you are, not because your hair is a certain color, but because I know you. I know that you have overcome cancer, or survived a war, or written an amazing novel. You are beautiful because you touch my heart.

Let’s stop thinking that it’s up to the rest of the world to choose our personal beauty quotient. Like the ugly duckling, it’s up to each of us to find our way to our inner swan. But once there, no one can knock us off. The beauty that radiates from the inside out is invincible.

And that goes for men and women equally.

Photo Pinti 1/Flickr

More on Women’s Obsession with Beauty

Chasing Beauty: An Addict’s Memoir

Are Women Addicted to Beauty?

Her Looks, Your Status: Why His Claims Not to Care About Beauty Ring Hollow

The Ugly Duckling as a Gender-Neutral Beauty Ideal

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. @Tom: “Think of how a parent feels about a child. It absolutely doesn’t matter what that kid looks like to the rest of the world”

    Wrong. Beauty influences everybody, parents included.
    Not only good looking people are (even unconsciously) preferred by figures such bosses and teachers…
    some researches proved that even parents would favour their better-looking children.
    I know, it’s hard to believe, but it doesn’t make it less true.
    It’s written into our DNA, our istincts and our brain. Beauty matters to us all, and denying it it’s just naive.

    Sure, we’re not helpless and we can balance this istinct, just as we (should) do with aggressivity and egoism.
    But denying the importance of physical beauty and pretending only the inside should matter (as you do in your article), is – ironically – similar to the opposite position, where only the external beauty matters.
    It’s an AGAINST stance, this OR that.

    While the wisest position – IMHO – would be acknowledging the wholeness of the human experience, that includes BOTH inner radiance and external beauty.
    And seeing them not against each other, but complementary. Holistically.
    Remember: fear divides, love unites. ;)

  2. I agree with Crescendo63…as Chekhov said: People should be beautiful in every way—in their faces, in the way they dress, in their thoughts and in their innermost selves

  3. “The bird in the story has to go through hell and back because he doesn’t fit in. And superficially he is damn ugly. Just when he is about to throw in the towel, he saddles up to the most beautiful creatures he has ever seen on the theory that dying at their hands is better than continuing to live.

    To his amazement they embrace him with open arms. Even more amazing, he realizes he is one of them: a swan.”

    It’s ironic that this rings true with how I felt as a trans woman. I was pretty ‘ugly’ for a guy, didn’t fit in, didn’t feel like I belonged there, and testosterone was sheer poison to my body, more or less literally. Then I figured I wasn’t a guy…and there was light.

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