By: Helen Woo
I am the ugly duckling. There are three of us – and I am always the odd man out. I am different from my siblings.
I want to be like my sister. Heck, I want to BE my sister. She’s older, she’s prettier, she’s taller, and she’s smarter. She gets all the attention. She’s perfect. My sister can do no wrong.
I like being a girl, so I don’t want to be like my brother – except I know that if I was born a boy, I’d get special treatment all the time.
I am seven years old, maybe eight, and I want approval so badly. I am proud and happy to carry the groceries on our way home from the market. We have no car, so walking is our norm.
I’d willingly help out in the kitchen every chance I could. I craved love and I wanted approval so desperately. Oh, please, please, please “Let me help you – let me make you proud. Please give me a chance.”
When I am nine years old, I am told to stop being outspoken. I need to stop expressing myself. I must keep my emotions to myself, I must keep my thoughts and wishes hidden. I should not express myself. I am a Chinese girl. I should “speak only when spoken to.”
I am now in the sixth grade; I think I am 11 years old. I look into the mirror, I smile into the mirror, and I brush my long, dark hair. I say to my reflection and affirm to myself: “I am NOT ugly. I am pretty… I am a pretty girl.”
I am a teenager now, 14 years old and just about to turn 15. I am told that even if there were funds available, it would be my sister that they would send to college/university. It doesn’t matter if I bring home mostly A’s and a couple of B’s. I still am not worthy. I do not deserve a paid education.
Throughout these years, I am told that I will not succeed. I am told that I am unfortunate because my sister got the good looks of the two girls. I am too short and too skinny; my voice is funny because it is too low and raspy. I am no good. I am the bad egg. I can relate to a book from my early childhood. Little did I know that in the end, the “Ugly Duckling” would turn out to be a beautiful swan.
I am 15 now. I have been raised with the belief that I am the black sheep of the family. So why not act like I am? The boys are looking at me now. They think I’m cute. Wow, I am cute! Not only that, but they tell me that I have a “good personality.” Nice. People like me; I am thrilled. There is no longer a need for me to compete with my sister. There is no need to try so hard and please everyone at home. However, I am still longing for their love… and approval.
I now start my rebellious phase. Trouble, here I come. I am a troubled teen like many, and I am involved with anything and anyone that is off limits to me. My excuse is that nothing I do makes a difference anyway, so why not test the limits. Ultimately, I do feel remorseful for my actions and I repent.
I am 18 now, and I want out. I feel restricted and confined to a place where I cannot be myself. I cannot speak out, and when I do, I am always wrong anyway. Nothing I do gains approval. I want my freedom. I want to express myself!
In a nutshell, growing up in the traditional old school, old culture-style home, I was told that I was too expressive and certainly too talkative. I was reprimanded for laughing too often and too loudly in public. I was told to contain myself and be aware of my body language. I was told to speak with my hands by my sides and to be still. I was told to speak only when spoken to and was discouraged to initiate conversations, as that action would be considered a display of bad manners. These requests were not easy, but I could at least honor them in public when with my family. However, when I was on my own, at school or elsewhere, I laughed, I jumped, I hugged, I felt passionate, and I felt free. I finally felt as though I loved myself.
Mostly, I wanted to love myself because I kept thinking to myself, who would love me if I didn’t? My friends, uncles and aunts and grandparents thought I was special. They loved me.
Outside of my immediate family, I realized that other people accepted me. They enjoyed my enthusiasm. They wanted to be with me. Even strangers thought I was a “fun and happy” person to be around. They enjoyed my laughter. I guess I was happy. I was happy because I felt freedom with them because I could be myself.
Though I recognize the bond of family, I also realize that they are not the only people who are important in my life. Whether bound by blood or by friendship, it is human nature to connect deeply to those who want to be with us and see the best in us.
Self-esteem grows immensely when it is nurtured by love and acceptance. I am grateful for the positive influence and guidance in my life. I am able to build my self-esteem through the people who were meant to be part of my journey to self-love.
Today I love and appreciate myself for who I am; for I am a swan.
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