Duckling Meets Swan: An Unlikely Tale of Transformation

by Carol Hess on March 5, 2012

Okay, I’m hooked.  I admit it.  I’m addicted to reality tv.  And not just any reality tv, Friends.  My drug of choice is makeover reality tv.  In one short half hour some poor ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan right before my eyes in my very own living room.  It’s the stuff of fairytales, and I love it.

Expensive designer clothes miraculously disguise any and all figure flaws Duckling may possess.  Wizards wielding scissors and paintbrushes turn Duckling’s flat, fine, flyaway down into Swan’s glossy, thick, perfectly tinted feathers.  Makeup artists dip into their mysterious pots full of magic potions and conjure up Duckling’s heretofore hidden Swan beauty.

Duckling’s transformation into Swan is effortless.  Oh, sure, Swan squirms a little bit at the unusual cleavage the new bra and blouse reveal.  And there are the few requisite tears when the less than stylish long hair is cut.  But Swan never teeters on the impossibly high but oh so sexy high heels.  She never peers blindly into the camera when the glasses she’s worn since fifth grade are removed.

And of course Duckling’s partner greets his Swan with proud enthusiasm, gallantly claiming she has always been Swan to him.  And Swan never, ever says, “Hey, wait a minute.  You’ve made me into someone I’m not.  I want to be Duckling again.”

I wonder why they call it reality tv?  Because my one and only makeover in the real world didn’t turn out at all the way it turns out on reality tv.  My friend Louise decided to liven up a boring Saturday afternoon by making me over.  That was Louise’s forte – making me over.  It seems I was never quite good enough just the way I was.  Of course I didn’t fight Louise because what Duckling worth her webbed feet doesn’t want to become Swan, right?

Louise dug into her bag of goodies, pulled out her curling iron and makeup bag, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work.  Of course it took her longer than the half hour allowed on television.  After all, she didn’t have a team of clothing, hair, and makeup professionals.  Nor was there room in my modest apartment for cameramen, production assistants, directors, film editors, and such.

Just like reality tv, I wasn’t allowed to look in the mirror while Louise worked her magic.  Finally she cocked her head, stared at me intently, gave one final tweak to my hair, nodded her head emphatically, declared me done, and ordered me to the mirror to take a look.

I gasped when I looked in the mirror.  I didn’t recognize the stranger who stared back at me.  I was looking at a tightly curled aristocratic matron with the rouged cheeks, blue eyelids, and pinched red mouth of a previous generation.  There was no doubt that the Swan in the mirror was beautiful in an older, hard, calculated kind of way.  But I didn’t think I liked her.  I wanted Duckling back.

“See how beautiful you can be if you will just allow your beauty to shine forth?”

Louise had snuck up behind me while I stood transfixed before the mirror.  While my mind grappled with how to answer Louise’s question, my body was neither slow nor diplomatic in its response.  My lips began to itch and swell.  My eyes began to get puffy, and my face broke out in red blotches.

As I stood under the steaming hot shower, desperately soaping and rinsing away the makeover, Louise (a registered nurse when she wasn’t making me over) kept asking me if I was having trouble breathing.  My lungs were functioning normally, but the rest of my body was breaking out into hives.

The next several weeks every homespun and medical remedy meant to dispel and halt the eruption of the painful, itchy, red welts with which I was covered failed to work.  It was months before my body finally stopped defending its right to remain Duckling.

This business of making someone over, of transforming someone is tricky.  The reality tv shows make it look easy, magical, and always hugely successful.  Duckling becomes Swan and lives happily ever after.

In truth, real transformation is never easy, magical, or always hugely successful.  It doesn’t start on the outside and work its way in.  Quite the contrary.  Real transformation is an inside job.  Sometimes it shows on the outside, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The real world Duckling works hard to discover that she is indeed Swan and always has been, no matter what other people may have told her or what she may have told herself.  Swan doesn’t need to wear expensive designer clothes, flaunt cleavage to her navel, sport a good haircut, or teeter on impossibly high heels.

The Duckling who apologetically waddled through life hoping not to be noticed is gone.  Swan glides into the room with shoulders thrown back and head held high, proudly owning the space she takes up on the planet.

And guess what, Friends?  Despite her transformation, Swan doesn’t live happily ever after.  That’s the stuff of reality tv and fairytales.  But Swan does live happier
ever after.

by Carol Hess


Categories Body Image, The Art of Star Polishing, The Mind Game

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar ellen jett April 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

Beautifully/Creatively written. Smiling all the way such that I thought about a creative writing class i took decades ago and what fun it would be to just let the humor and truest beliefs surface from the brain the heart onto the page.

Thank you Carol. You’re a joy.

Best to you, Ellen


avatar Carol Hess April 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Thank you for your kind words, Ellen. I can tell you it was definitely more fun to write this post than experience it! Hope you were inspired to follow your thought and do some fun writing.


avatar ellen jett April 4, 2012 at 10:32 am

P.S. How ghastly that you broke out in hives!!!!!!!! Chronic itching is a horrible experience.

I can envision you trying to wrap your mind around who or what you saw in the mirror.



avatar Carol Hess April 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I was busier wrapping my hive-ridden body in freezing cold sheets dipped in November seawater. I kid you not. (Nope, didn’t work.)


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