The Ugly Ducking

“There is probably no better or more reliable measure of whether a woman has spent time in ugly duckling status at some point or all throughout her life than her inability to digest a sincere compliment. Although it could be a matter of modesty, or could be attributed to shyness- although too many serious wounds are carelessly written off as “nothing but shyness”- more often a compliment is stuttered around about because it sets up an automatic and unpleasant dialogue in the woman’s mind.
If you say how lovely she is, or how beautiful her art is, or compliment anything else her soul took part in, inspired, or suffused, something in her mind says she is undeserving and you, the complimenter, are an idiot for thinking such a thing to begin with. Rather than understand that the beauty of her soul shines through when she is being herself, the woman changes the subject and effectively snatches nourishment away from the soul-self, which thrives on being acknowledged. I must admit, I sometimes find it useful in my practice to delineate the various typologies of personality as cats and hens and ducks and swans and so forth. If warranted, I might ask my client to assume for a moment that she is a swan who does not realize it. Assume also for a moment that she has been brought up by or is currently surrounded by ducks.
There is nothing wrong with ducks, I assure them, or with swans. But ducks are ducks and swans are swans. Sometimes to make the point I have to move to other animal metaphors. I like to use mice. What if you were raised by the mice people? But what if you’re, say, a swan. Swans and mice hate each other’s food for the most part. They each think the other smells funny. They are not interested in spending time together, and if they did, one would be constantly harassing the other.
But what if you, being a swan, had to pretend you were a mouse? What if you had to pretend to be gray and furry and tiny? What you had no long snaky tail to carry in the air on tail-carrying day? What if wherever you went you tried to walk like a mouse, but you waddled instead? What if you tried to talk like a mouse, but insteade out came a honk every time? Wouldn’t you be the most miserable creature in the world?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. So why, if this is all so and too true, do women keep trying to bend and fold themselves into shapes that are not theirs? I must say, from years of clinical observation of this problem, that most of the time it is not because of deep-seated masochism or a malignant dedication to self-destruction or anything of that nature. More often it is because the woman simply doesn’t know any better. She was not taught this in her cultural upbringing.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

When I read this beautiful prose, I was overwhelmed by the fact that this connects so deeply with singers in general: whether male or female. Recently, one of my delightful little voice students came into her lesson in tears. Her fellow choir singers had been mocking her older, more classically-trained, singing voice. In the age of Glee and the gold standard of the heavily-tensed belt voice, her rich tone, floating high notes, and young operatic quality makes her voice unusual for one so young. Many hugs later, I attempted to explain to her that she was born with a different vocal color and strength which is not worse, not better, just different. Her voice is more suited to classical pieces and the golden age of musical theatre than contemporary pop songs. She is just a swan living amongst the ducks.
As a young high schooler, I went through similar difficulties. I wanted nothing more than to be the next Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. But, alas, my voice always came out rounded, strong, and open rather than bright and deep. No matter how I tried to falsify my voice, I couldn’t move past my full, operatic soprano sound. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that my voice was best suited to a style of music I didn’t even know existed until college. On my first day at USC, after hearing all of the open, rich, and loud singers around me, I finally found my people. I felt at home. I was no longer the “ugly duckling.”
Just because a voice is different from everyone else’s doesn’t mean that the voice is bad or wrong. Louis Armstrong had one of the strangest voices I have ever heard. He was a complete vocal anomaly: a result of an vocal chord oddity. His voice was different, to say the least. No one can quite replicate his voice (at least not without doing themselves vocal harm), and yet, I love listening to his voice. It’s not pretty; it’s not smooth; but it sure is interesting and so fun to listen to. If Armstrong had hid his voice from the musical world because he didn’t sound like all the other jazz singers out there, we would have never fallen in love with his fascinating voice and many of the jazz standards would have never been performed.
Great things come from those who are strong enough to be themselves, even if that means sticking out from the crowd. Sometimes you just need to find your niche and your fellow swans.

#bestrongin2015 challenge day 18: Titibasana/ firefly pose. There is something so freeing about finally getting your feet off the ground in these arm balances. It feels so liberating: like I can fly, like I can do anything. Like I can laugh my butt off [the ground]. I’ve long ago given up the illusion of being a “serious” yogi. It’s just not me. It’s not my personality. It would be a facade. So, I’ll continues to have a big grin on my face, giggle uncontrollably, and enjoy the ridiculousness of being alive. Life is so much more fun that way. Be yourself. Spread your wings and fly.

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