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Let’s Talk About The ‘Ugly Duckling’ Trope

We’ve all seen it before, whether it be from The Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality, or Clueless, the idea of the ugly duckling has been prevalent in our favorite films. On the surface, it can seem harmless. I mean, who wouldn’t want a game-changing makeover right? When we dig deeper, the implications of the trope can be detrimental to everyone, especially those absorbing this kind of content at a young age. 

The tale of the ugly duckling goes as follows: A duckling gets teased by his peers for looking different than the rest of the ducks, and only finds solace in his appearance once he grows up to be a beautiful swan. 

The message being sent with this trope is that looking different is a bad thing, and you can only truly be confident if you change your physical appearance. It’s easy to pick out how that message, in and of itself, is problematic. What isn’t so easy to pick out is how the media’s depiction of this trope is subtly deeming certain physical characteristics as undesirable and unattractive. 

The Princess Diaries makes a point of removing Mia’s glasses and straightening her frizzy hair before considering her attractive. Miss Congeniality had the main character, Gracie, wax her entire body, whiten her teeth, and go into a tanning booth before deeming her to be attractive. This is all just a way of perpetuating the beauty standards our society has set in place. In fact, when you look up Miss Congeniality on Google, all the recommended movies are other films following the ugly duckling trope: Mean Girls, Clueless, The Devil Wears Prada, etc

We should be trying to foster an era of increased body confidence, self-acceptance, and appreciation for what we were born with. The ugly duckling trope only prevents that from happening. The trope perpetuates the idea that women are only desired when they fit into the cookie-cutter standard of what beauty is.  I’m not encouraging us to boycott these movies and stop watching them all together; they are all entertaining and a part of our childhoods. I do think we need to be cautious of the content we consume and be more aware of the implications of such content. The ugly duckling trope needs to be retired. It’s already been used so many times before, and it no longer holds up.

Hello! I'm a Communication Studies major here at LMU set to graduate in 2023. I'm originally from the bay area and transferred in from a junior college local to my hometown. I love reading, watching movies, and spending my free time outside. Meeting new people is one of my favorite things to do, and I'm excited to be a part of HC LMU for just that reason.
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