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The ugly duckling.

**The following story is provided with written permission from a previous client. Extra care has been taken to protect her identity.** 

She came into my office at the college counseling center I was interning at. A rather visually stunning yet anxious senior hoping for some answers.

As we began chatting, it became clear to me that like so many women, she didn’t see her inherent worth the way others did. And it was now affecting her academic performance and relationships.

I asked her to think waaaaaaay back…”What’s one of your earliest memories? Maybe a time when you were self-conscious…

She pretty quickly came up with an answer but was hesitant to offer it because she couldn’t explain the connection.  I gently encouraged her to share anyway.

This beautiful, tentative being began to describe walking into kindergarten on the first day of school. She was greeted by her teacher who welcomed her to the class and handed her a picture which would lead to her own personal cubby to put her belongings in. She was told her cubby would have a matching picture on it. (Sounds simple and innocent enough, right??)

Well, when that precious babe of a child looked down at the picture her still chubby little fingers were holding, she saw a duck.

A cute, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary DUCK.

Then she turned to look around the room at the pictures her pint-sized female peers had been given. Flowers, butterflies, and the like…all things pretty, dainty…FEMININE.

At this point, my client looked up at me questioningly. Hot tears began to pool in the corners of my eyes. I understood, even if she weren’t ready to make the connection yet.

She went on…”Of course I was a DUCK. A god-damn duck! The other girls were picture perfect and I had the Dorothy Hamill bowl cut of a hairstyle and I hadn’t lost the baby fat yet, and so I was a DUCK.”

As a counselor, mother, and fellow woman, I wanted nothing more in that moment than to go back in time, scoop that precious baby girl up in my arms and tell her that she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and to never EVER let anyone else dull her sparkle.

After disclosing my wishful thinking to my now trebling client, I offered that ALL of us have felt that way at one time or another, and if a woman says she hasn’t, she’s either lying or suffering from a “personality disorder.” 

Seriously, what the fuck have we allowed society to do to us?!

I judge the Barbie doll cock-spinner down the street who judges the gothic goddess next to her who then judges the cross fit amazonian next to her. It never ends!

Don’t for a second assume it’s not happening in our men and children either.

I also see this self-referential thinking in my LGBTQ+ clients as well. One trans woman doesn’t appreciate another’s gender expression and this bear judges that twink as superficial. Around and around we go.

I’m not here to write another essay on the ills of social media or marketing or even cultural body shaming though. I want to talk to you about YOU.

You see, by the time my sweet client had walked through my doors to talk about a seemingly unrelated issue at first glance, she had spent nearly 20 years confirming that inner narrative of “not being good enough” hundreds of thousands of times.

And once we have “proven ourselves right,” we go right back to trying to have our needs for love and belonging, validation, etc. met.

For some of us that means casual, yet un-empowered sex; for others it’s an addiction to the newness of a relationship…never making it past the point of infatuation because a lover might start to pick up on the fact that we’re not perfect (gasp!).

I’ve even met men and women who take a different approach – they’re so self-deprecating no one wants to be around them long, thus confirming “they’re not good enough.”  This lets them off the hook internally. Like human Eeyores, everything is someone else’s fault, so why bother trying?

And if it’s validation we’re after, some of us might just try to find it in our accomplishments. I’ll be damned if I’m not the absolute BEST at everything. Everyone will see it and praise me. 

But you see my Sweets, there will ALWAYS be someone who does it better, faster, or with more flair eventually. So you are only setting yourself up for failure if this is the way you go about proving your worth.

My client had spent a lifetime (well a college student’s lifetime anyway) attempting to prove she wasn’t the ugly duckling she thought everyone believed her to be.  All the while she missed out on the realization that she had actually become a beautiful swan.


By allowing an old script of an internal narrative to loop around and around in the back of her mind until she had created an anxiety disorder.

The demons that hurt us the most are those that come from within.

The way out was simple. That doesn’t mean easy though.

She had to refocus her energy on finding what felt most AUTHENTIC to her. Not the blonde barbie down the street. Or her fellow grad student with the perfect GPA and the rest of her life figured out at age 22. (If that’s you, high fives… do you boo boo!)

We also spoke about self-compassion and positive self-talk, yada yada. Did some fun art therapy exercises and guided meditations.


Taking a page from the incomparable Dr. Michael Brant DeMaria, I encouraged her to find a picture of herself around the age of kindergarten and place it in a frame by her bed, greeting it when she wakes up in the morning and before she falls asleep as a reminder that she is still that sweet, innocent baby girl on the inside.

And fuck anyone who would make her feel less than good enough, including herself!

Here’s mine:

I’ve never been built like a ballerina, no matter how hard I wished I were. I’ve got the body of my Viking ancestors – sturdy with a big ‘ole booty!  Was great for gymnastics though and picking up anyone who appreciates a ‘lil junk in the trunk. 😉

I’m also not your typical buttoned up therapist. I love tattoos and piercings and shaved heads. I’m often barefoot in session and curse when it feels appropriate to do so.

If I allow others’ comparisons, or worse yet my own, to loop like a meth’d out hamster who just can’t get out off the psychedelic wheel of doom, I diminish myself.  And so do you.

Listen up!  We’re all DUCKS.  But we get to choose how to decorate them.  

I’m pleased to say my client graduated on time and is now in a loving marriage with a man who absolutely adores her.  She exudes an inner grace that is palpable and intoxicating.


Tamara Powell, LMHC bio picTamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, university psychology instructor, and empowerment coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.

Passionate about holding sacred space for the rebels and mystics of the world – the healers, the visionaries, and the creatives, she guides them in bringing their soul driven purpose to the planet in a very practical and powerful way.


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