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Ugly Duckling

Growing up, who couldn’t help but love Hans Christian Anderson’s The Ugly Duckling? The last duck to hatch in the nest, the Ugly Duckling enters the world only to be rejected by the other farm-yard birds. Why? Because he’s not like them — he’s ugly. Eventually their unkind treatment leads the Ugly Duckling to beg a passing flock of swans to kill him. But as he lowers his head he sees his reflection … He’s no longer ugly, but has matured into a beautiful swan!

Fox’s newest television show The Swan takes the premise of this story and turns it into a new reality series. Reality TV meets Extreme Makeover meets Miss America Pageant. Eighteen average women (read: ugly ducks) get the "chance of a lifetime" to become beautiful. Each contestant receives a full life makeover with the assistance of a personal coach, therapist, trainer, cosmetic surgeon, dentist and stylist. At the end of their beauty boot camp all the women participate in a beauty pageant, but only one will be crowned the “Swan.”

Initially this sounds wonderful. And yet, the message this reality series is sending, though subtle, is troubling.

It’s the same message people are bombarded with anytime they stand in line to pay for their groceries— there are those magazines dedicated to the inside scoop on the glamour secrets of celebrities and models. The covers of these magazines advertise beauty through their pictures and articles. The Fast Food Diet, How to dress like a celebrity, Quiz inside: Do you need a makeover? are just a few recent examples.

It’s not enough that society’s ideal images are found in magazines, books, and on television or movie screens. Now even reality shows indoctrinate viewers with how vital good looks are — a "chance of a lifetime." The world has been so deceived with the notion that outward beauty matters most, that it misses what is really in need of a makeover— it is the ugly duckling within the hearts of many people.

There certainly is nothing wrong with wearing nice clothes, taking care of your skin and hair. It’s normal to want to look our best. The real wrong occurs when the focus is on masking an ugly heart with a beautiful outer appearance.

An excellent biblical example is Esther. "Beautiful of form and face" Esther was required, by royal edict, to compete in a beauty pageant where the winner would be crowned King Xerxes’ new queen. Esther won and suddenly she had it all — the ultimate life makeover: good looks, expensive clothing, a title, servants — she was queen! But Esther didn’t revel in this new life. When she learned her uncle’s life and the lives of her entire race were in danger, Esther had no qualms about setting aside everything in order to do what she could to save her people, even if it meant her death.

Beauty is not a sin. Wanting to look beautiful isn’t either. But putting our outward appearance above and before our relationship with God is. Peter wrote in one of his letters, "Let not your adornment be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God." (1 Peter 3:3, NASB)

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Like the Ugly Duckling, we need not undergo extensive beauty treatments to become beautiful. We need only accept that we are still growing. One day we will become perfect — in the image of our Creator, just as He planned.

[Sarah E. Mehrens is a freelance writer and legislative aide for a non-profit organization in the Washington, DC area.]

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