The Stuff of Fairy Tales

by Carol Hess on August 25, 2011

Okay, I’m hooked.  I admit it.  I’m addicted to reality TV.  But not just any reality TV.  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 fairy tales, 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, colorless 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 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 her glasses are removed. 

As for Duckling’s partner, he 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 didn’t turn out at all the way it turns out on reality TV. 

My friend Janice decided to liven up a boring Saturday afternoon by making me over.  That was Janice’s forté – making me over.  It seems I was never quite good enough just the way I was.  Of course I didn’t resist because what Duckling worth her webbed feet doesn’t want to become Swan, right?

Janice dug into her bag of goodies, pulled out her curling iron and makeup bag, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work.  Just like reality TV, I wasn’t allowed to look in the mirror while she worked her magic.  Finally she cocked her head and stared at me intently.  She gave one final tweak to my hair, declared herself done, and ordered me to the mirror to take a look.

I gasped.  I didn’t recognize the stranger who stared back at me.  She was 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, harder, calculated kind of way.  But I wasn’t sure I liked her.  She wasn’t me.  I wanted Duckling back.

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

While my mind grappled with how to answer Janice’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, Janice (a registered nurse when she wasn’t making me over) kept asking me if I was having trouble breathing.  My lungs were functioning fine, but my body was breaking out in hives everywhere. 

The next several weeks, every homespun and mainstream 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.  Reality TV makes 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.  Nor does it 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 does a lot of work before she finally realizes she is indeed Swan and always has been, no matter what other people may have told her or what she may have told herself.  And she doesn’t need to wear expensive designer clothes, flaunt cleavage to her navel, 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.

By the way, despite her transformation, Swan doesn’t live happily ever after.  That’s the stuff of reality TV and fairy tales.  But Swan does live happier ever after.  And that’s more than good enough.

What was your most significant inner or outer transformation?  What did you learn about yourself?

by Carol Hess


Categories Personal Empowerment, The Art of Star Polishing, The Mind Game

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar stacey August 31, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Hi there this was so eloquently and beautifully written, the idea of beauty, both synthetic and organic is very personal to me, something i’ve thought a battle with. I’ve shared my take on it with you here. Carol…I like your style mam..I really do.


avatar Carol Hess September 1, 2011 at 12:21 am

Hi, Stacey — Welcome to Star Polisher. So great to see you here because I like your style too! I thought your post about inner and outer transformation was terrific. (Loved the photos too.) I remember meeting a woman at a 12-step retreat, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It wasn’t that she was so beautiful in a physical sense, but she was just so damned comfortable in her own skin. That ease with herself made her beautiful.


avatar Paula Lee Bright September 6, 2011 at 8:45 am

What a horrifying yet beautiful story. Applause to you for having the sense to see the quality of Duckling.


avatar Carol Hess September 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I think we’ve all got a bit of Duckling and a bit of Swan in us, don’t you, Paula? And it’s just like Will Shakespeare suggested, “To thine ownself be true.”


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