Hans Christian Andersen wrote “The Ugly Duckling” in 1843, and it was an instant success. I understand why.

It tells the story of “a dark, gray bird” called ugly by those around him. Then one day he matures into a beautiful swan. Not realizing his transformation, he finally settles on death as a solution to his pain. He flew toward the beautiful swans and cried out, “Kill me. ” Resolved, he waited.

But what did he see in the clear stream below? His own image; no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan. To be born in a duck’s nest, in a farmyard, is of no consequence to a bird, if it is hatched from a swan’s egg. He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the newcomer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.

More than giving you the secret to being beautiful, or the clues to get someone beautiful, I want to encourage you to reconsider you. The story has its power and truth and yet some of it is no better than the lies it tries to destroy. What is wrong with being a “a dark, gray bird”? What makes “dark gray birds ... ugly and disagreeable to look at”? The story attempted to help us change our self-perception—and it does. But perhaps a “dark gray bird” has its own beauty. Perhaps a “graceful and beautiful swan” is not the standard of beauty.

In books and movies and TV shows we are sold an idea of beauty. We are given a portrait against which we are judged and against which we judge others. This is nearly inevitable given the amount of visual media we ingest. Every TV show picks the “beautiful” person. Every show suggests to you what a person who succeeds should or must look like. The more crass shows laugh at the ugly and pursue the “beautiful.”

The Bachelor shows what an “eligible bachelor” should look like.

The Bachelorette shows what an “eligible bachelorette” should look like.

I am not saying they should put “ugly” people on those shows. I am saying that in choosing they shape our perceptions of beauty and eligibility. Even in choosing or favoring someone we think is ugly—we help define the categories. At one time a “buxom” (large) woman WAS the standard of beauty. Now, a slim figure is called “beautiful.”

Looking for beauty in the curve of your hips is dangerous and fleeting. You must believe in more than this! If you stop there you will be a prisoner to that state of being and destined, in time, to lose who you are. I must agree that I have value beyond the cut of my pecs. I must! Or I will be chained and desperate to guard not just my figure, but who I am—my very self. We must rise above these simple ideas of beauty or they will rule us. They will determine our fate and our relationships. If we do not rise above, we may choose on appearance ALONE. If we do not wake up, we may never engage others for fear they will notice that we are, well, “ugly.”

Who knows but that age has matured my face and made me more attractive. Who knows whether grey hair will not crown me well. This may not be the case; I make no declarative statements, only suppositions. But, could it be that there are many ways to be handsome, many possible beautifuls? It IS possible. It is possible that the world has skewed all our ideas of what is beautiful. It is possible that in believing these lies we have ourselves pressed beauty into the thimble of our imagination. It is possible that in believing the lies we have hesitated on more than one occasion because we feared we were not “pretty enough” or “handsome enough.” After all, beautiful people are supposed to be joined to beautiful people. At least that is the myth.