Nancy Roman

The Ugly Duckling Advantage

A few days ago my husband and I went out to dinner.  We went to a very nice restaurant that we don’t frequent very often. But we were really good about ordering the healthiest options on the menu. We’re both making extra efforts to be healthier. Our program is called “Fear of Death.”

About halfway through our tasty, but healthy, entrees, another couple came through the door. The guy looked like a bit like my husband. Older guy, nice looking in a manly way (meaning not too much hair left, but still cute).

His wife was striking too…but not in a good way.

She had platinum blond hair, worn long in a 1962 teased flip.  If you are my age, you might recognize this as Lesley Gore Hair.

Lesley Gore. Very Flippy.
(and who told her that her checked shirt would be perfect for an album cover?)

To go with her bouffant hair, Restaurant lady wore a low-cut black blouse and a short skirt with a ruffle at the hem. You know the kind of skirt I mean –  no matter how you hem it, it’s four inches shorter in the back once it curves your ass.

Can you visualize it?

Not, not this bad… (and shame on you and your perverted visualization.)


She looked more like this:

When I see a woman with this kind of style, I always think: “Stuck in Time.”

And I am glad I was an ugly duckling.

Because I’ve noticed that many of the popular girls back in high school are stuck.

Their high school years were, as Springsteen wrote, their glory days. They peaked early. Popular, pretty, envied.

Everyone loved their hair, makeup, clothes. No wonder they’d like to stay there.

And stay there they do. For the next forty years.

But then there are girls like me.

Some of us awkward girls tried hard. Some didn’t even know how to try.

I tried excruciatingly hard.

To unfortunate results.

But there’s a big advantage to teenage inadequacy.

I’m not attached to the way I USED to look.  I’m ecstatic to leave it behind.

Yes, there’s not much reason to recapture my previous glory.


  1. I keep telling my daughter this when she complains about being awkward and gangly – she’s seventeen. “You don’t want to peak in high school because then you stay having peaked in high school. Better to have it happen when you are thirty, forty or even fifty.” Of course, she doesn’t get it, but she will, give her twenty years. Great post :)

    • My point exactly. Thanks.

    • You are so right! We said that all the time, too. “Every one get’s their shot at being pretty, best to save your turn until later” Daughter is now seeing the high school queens fading, fading…

  2. I am with you, feel you as they say. My teenage years were huge bell bottoms and hiphuggers, peasant blouses and headbands. Yeah, think I will pass on that.

    I think you and I saw the same woman yesterday. Shudder.

  3. Wait a minute — you mean I shouldn’t still be dressing like that. Damn. I thought my little skirt looked cute with my checked blouse.

  4. I love this post! And your style, no matter the year!

  5. There’s a big difference between having style and knowing how to match one’s sweater to one’s kneesocks with the appropriate Bass Weejuns. The latter looks just plain unfortunate when your knee caps overlap the top of your socks. You my friend have style..

    • I thought so at the time… but no one else did.

  6. you are funny

  7. I see that woman in Subway almost everyday. She’s been to the tanning booth WAY too often, nails are too long, strappy little wedge sandals…..just too much for a woman of her age. Thank goodness, she’s smart enough not to wear a mini skirt with a ruffle. Not yet anyway.

  8. Plus, people are always waiting for beautiful women to start losing their looks. My looks were all there for me to find, eventually. I always said, as a teenager, that I looked about 40, but I knew that it would pay off when I was 60…

    • When I was a teenager, I looked about 10. No one wanted to date me…except perverts.

  9. Bonnie

    What about those of us who never peaked?

    • Yes, I’m with you. I’m still waiting for that to happen.

      • Well, that makes three of us .. .that or i missed my peak … hill, what hill? I didn’t see any hill …

    • Listen up! You just haven’t peaked YET. You must be destined to be a stunning old person.

  10. This reminds me of my niece and one particular year when I was 3rd in line to take her “Easter Dress Shopping.” She was 15, 5’10” and shaped like an ironing board. At that height, she was a size 0… no hips, no bust. She spent most of those years in tears afraid she would never “bloom.” She’s now in her 40’s and post childbirth still has a body even teens and 20-somethings would envy. Yes, her body developed in more womanly ways, but she really “bloomed” when she accepted herself as a beautiful human being and let herself shine from within – the body reflected the mind.

  11. Cleavage and curvy behinds are in. Except for the out of date hair, the old gal has it going on.

    • I just hope her husband thinks so

  12. Even from the other side of the gender aisle, these ladies are not attractive, just makes me sad that someone feels they have to live that way. And just for equalities sake, although I graduated more than a few decades ago, our HS star athlete still wears his letter jacket, while hanging out at the fire station, I’m told.

    Great post.

  13. Michelle Gillies

    I have one sister (one of many) who still does this. Although, it isn’t her glory days from school (she was kind of geeky then) (cute geeky though). It is her glory days from when she married her 2nd husband, had a boob job, bleached her hair, and as my nephew once said, started “dressing like a stripper”. I could never understand why she would do this to herself. She was a beautiful woman and totally turned herself into some kind of Barbarella doll. Twenty years later she has just started dressing a little less stripperish.

  14. this is great! my mom always talks about her two biggest fears being either looking like an “oldie”, in her words “wrinkled old hag” and the second looking like she’s wearing clothes that are too “young” for her age. I think she looks as fabulous as ever :)
    anyway, I love your writing!!

    • When you get to be my age (and your mom’s probably) it’s almost impossible not to end up looking like one or the other. There’s almost no middle ground for middle age. Thanks for reading.

  15. You make me laugh aloud, proper snorting, belly laughs. Now, that’s not attractive but I don’t care. We have people dress this way in the UK too, I moved away from where I went to an all girls secondary school but in my mind I’m visualising the popular girls who tormented me totally stuck in a time warp! Thank you :)

  16. Oooh, oooh. Are the glory becomes gory pictures of the boys coming? Because a very dark part of me enjoys seeing the “after” images of the high school sports kings whose days on the field evolved into days on the couch watching other boys on the field.

    • It’s much more difficult to write about men. The only one I know well is my husband, and he’s still a mystery to me.

  17. The not very nice comment my aunt used to make was, “Mutton dressed up like lamb.” I think of that comment every time I shop for clothes now. At almost 60, I don’t want to dress frumpy, but it’s really hard to find the right clothes.

  18. waiting to peak. sexy fifty year old possibly?

  19. OMG. You really are a triple threat. Great writing, illustrations, and fashion sense!

  20. Teresa Cleveland Wendel

    This is a great essay. I wasn’t popular or cute in high school. Now that I’m older, I’m hitting my stride.

    • Yes, we late bloomers are the lucky ones… and most of us spend a lot more time being old than being young…

  21. Loved that post. Hoping I still won’t peak for another 10 years. I was a late bloomer……..Anyway, I tell my boys that. The teenagers look skeptical but the younger ones know their 47 year old mama will only get more better with age. Ha.

  22. Donna

    I went to a barbeque a few weeks ago and met this very nice middle aged woman, however I was taken back that she showed up to the party in a tennis outfit – complete with a visor! Speaking with her for a few moments, I found out quickly that she was a tennis star in high school and had played in college! This was a well spoken, educated woman with grown children still playing out her glory days!

    • Now that is “stuck in time” to the EXTREME!

  23. Ha! Priceless. We are so lucky that we our glory years are now and into the future.

  24. I was a late bloomer too. I haven’t hit my peak and I haven’t grown up yet either. I’m lost in the ‘burbs. Great post.

  25. LOL. In your drawing you look like the nerdy girl in Scooby-Do (Wendy?). But in a good way, of course!

    • A Facebook friend said the same thing! That’s me all right – the Scooby Doo Girl. Whoever originated that show had probably seen in high school.

  26. Amen, sistah. I was most certainly not a high school peeker. I’d rather look like how I look now at 36 than how I looked at 18, 20 or even 25. Thank goodness for low expectations. Great post!

  27. High school “peaker” I should say. But I wasn’t a high school peeker either ;)

  28. I hear ya, loud and clear!!! Yes, after high school, it could only get better!!!!! :)

    • I like myself more with every decade. It’s weird but true. Could just be that I am more accepting, but I also think that I actually AM better.

  29. Reblogged this on notquiteold and commented:

    In honor of Lesley Gore, here’s my post from 2012 where she was part of the topic. Despite my disdain for her photo attire, I liked her a lot back in 1963 – especially “You Don’t Own Me.” What a great song – and very strong for that pre-feminist time.

    • She was one of the greats. (but shudder when I see older women trying to wear the short flippy flirty skirts that seem to be popular again.)

      • I believe in lots of freedom to dress as you want… but I recognize there are age limits.

        • Modification of fashion trends to age appropriate versions good idea for ages 3-99…after that, you can wear what you want and who dares to say? (giggles inserted here)

          • I like lots of freedom in choosing fashion – but there’s a limit… you’ve gone too far if you look deranged.

  30. You look Mahvalus, as Billy Crystal used to say as Fernando Lamas

    • “It is better to look good than to feel good!”

  31. Great post, Nancy. I’ve known a few beauty queens and popular types still stuck in high school styles. I shudder thinking how they look now. Odd they can’t see it. o_O

    • There mirrors have frozen, and they just see the same image as forty years ago….

  32. I read the post, and then went on to my other internet reading. Imagine my shock to see the articles about Lesley Gore’s death today. Very odd coincidence……I hadn’t heard about her or seen anything she was in until today then BOOM! You did her in!
    I definitely did not peak in high school, nor in college, or in my after college education. The peak years are gone, but I think I missed them.

    • I actually wrote this in 2012, but when I saw that Lesley Gore had passed away today, I thought it appropriate to recognize her again. When I was 13, I loved “You Don’t Own Me” – I was a feminist in the making, even in 1964.

  33. I never thought of it like this – Stuck in time. I didn’t get stuck in my HS days–in fact I couldn’t wait to get out of that time–but maybe this explains why I kind of got stuck I my early thirties as I sure wish my body got stuck there. Ha.

  34. hello

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