i learned the truth at 10, thanks to this song.
an indictment of the world of high school that could be considered the great grandma of mean girls, janis ian’s at seventeen must have hit a chord with a lot of others as well, as it was a huge hit that year. it’s a commentary on the importance of popularity, cliques, and being judged on your appearance: your clothes, your face, basically everything about “ugly duckling girls.” at 10, i knew i’d never be a cheerleader, a beauty queen, or one of those girls who seemed to walk out of a shampoo commercial. for starters, my hair was brown (and we all knew back then that blondes had more fun.) all the girls in my class were thin as sticks; i somehow was curvy, which wasn’t too cool when you’re in 5th grade. (and that continued on into high school, when finally most of the girls caught up.) and worst of all, i was a smart girl.
i knew it would be a long time, if ever, that anyone would want to date a smart girl like me. at 10, i was reading mother jones and newsweek andÂ all sorts of classic books; i adored joining my folks as they watched PBS shows on history and politics. most of my peers at the time were not there; many still aren’t. and yet, i also loved it when my friend jeanne and i would borrow her older sister’s seventeen magazine. somehow, my entire existence was supposed to be centered on finding the right lip gloss and taking quizzes that would surely determine the path of my life going forward. Â it was all so confusing to me; it was like i was supposed to be several different people, all without actually turning into sybil.
and then janis ian cleared it all up for me. don’t worry kid, she seemed to be saying. the really pretty and popular ones were going to lead boring, traditional lives. but you, my friend, are an ugly ducking girl like me.
and what i took from that? well, you know what eventually happened to the ugly duckling, right?