25 Celebrities on Their ‘Ugly Duckling’ Phase

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“I had braces, and I decided it would be a great idea to shave the back of my head.” —Gwyneth Paltrow

Self/Reflection is a week of stories on the Cut about how we feel, versus how we look.

Celebrities (“they’re just like us!”) grew up feeling insecure about how they looked, thanks to the adolescent joys of braces, buckteeth, big ears, big boobs … and more! We’ve all been there. Below, 25 celebrity women recall those awkward phases (some with a great sense of humor), and remember how the “ugly days” brought them to fame and success now.

1. Tiffany Haddish

“I used to get picked on at school a lot. What I thought was a mole was a wart. I had a wart growing out of my forehead and it kind of looked like a horn and kids used to call me a dirty unicorn.” —Good Morning America, December 2017

2. Lena Dunham

“Throughout my teens I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was fucking funny looking. Potbelly, rabbit teeth, knock knees — I could never seem to get it right and it haunted my every move.” —Instagram, January 2017

3. Solange Knowles

In a letter to her teenage self: “You will dive head first without looking into phases that you are certain of who you are. Some of these stages include:

-The dance-is-life (aka ‘this leotard is my second skin’) phase.
-The Bible-thumping-church-camp phase (which coincided and contradicted with the Fiona-Apple-fan-club-president phase).
-The Nas-aficionado-brown-lip-liner-and-Vaseline phase.
-The Rasta-vegan-thrifter-who-is-determined-to-marry-Brandon-Boyd phase.
-The football-player’s-girlfriend-who-wears-braided-blond-highlights-and-swears-by-capri-pants phase.” —Teen Vogue, May 2017

4. Gwyneth Paltrow

“I think being a 13-year-old girl sucks no matter what century — no matter what time frame. It was brutal. That was a really hard year for me. I was really trying to grow into this awkward, gawky body, which I think I half grew into. I had braces, and I decided it would be a great idea to shave the back of my head. I think it’s a time in one’s life where you’re trying on different personas and you’re trying to see what kind of a person you’re going to be. I think it’s just also painful.” —the Today show, June 2017

5. Viola Davis

“I was one of those people that everyone knew, but I didn’t have a lot of friends. I didn’t date or do any of that stuff. I was overweight and very, very shy.” —People, March 2017

6. Uzo Aduba

“You see, I grew up in a small New England town where the beauty ideal was very traditional and seemingly flawless: blonde hair, blue eyes, legs for days. In my mind, that meant anyone who didn’t look that way was considered unattractive. I started to doubt everything about myself, from my curvy build to the gap in my teeth. I never felt beautiful.” —Seventeen, June 2016

7. Jennifer Aniston

“I’ve never loved my butt. It’s sort of a thing. I had a bubble butt and was teased.” People, April 2016

8. Gisele Bündchen

“Even before I got into the business, I was used to being bullied because I was always tall and skinny and stuck out. I got really red all the time from playing volleyball, red like a pepper. So I thought bullying was just the way life is.” —New York Times, May 2016

9. Serena Williams

“Most women athletes are pretty thin. I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I had to come to terms — as every teen and young adult does — with loving myself. I had to find different role models. But my body type is in style now, so I’m loving it!” —People, June 2015

10. Kerry Washington

“I didn’t grow up thinking I was pretty; there was always a prettier girl than me. So I learned to be smart and tried to be funny and develop the inside of me, because I felt like that’s what I had.” —Marie Claire, March 2015

11. Cindy Crawford

“I hated my eyebrows and my hair. The mole was the thing I got teased about and was embarrassed about, and that set me apart.” —Becoming, September 2015

12. Zendaya

“For me, I’m skinny and I’m tall and I’m lanky, and for some people that could be a negative thing. If you’re tall, people are going to comment whether you’re tall or not. They’re going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so tall!’ — so you might as well be super, super, super tall and wear those heels!” —Huffington Post, May 2015

13. Margot Robbie

“I did not grow up feeling like I was particularly attractive. You should have seen me at 14, with ­braces and glasses, gangly and doing ballet!” —Vanity Fair, July 2014

14. Kim Kardashian West

“I was only 10 when I started developing breasts. I remember crying in the bathtub. I took a washcloth, made it really hot, put it over my chest, and prayed, ‘Please don’t let them grow any bigger! They’re embarrassing me!’” —Shape, May 2010

15. Mila Kunis

“I grew into my face. I had a very funny looking face when I was little. I had like big eyes, big lips, big ears. But when I was little I was constantly being made fun of for having big eyes and that was awful. I used to come home crying: ‘Why do I have big eyes?’ And my parents were like: ‘You’re crazy!’” —OK! magazine, February 2011

16. Nicole Kidman

“I didn’t know whether I could become an actress because I was so tall and gangly.” —The Sun, April 2011

17. Katy Perry

“In middle school they called me ‘over the shoulder boulder holder.’ Now they call me hot.” —Twitter, March 2011

18. Madonna

“The boys in my school would make fun of me. ‘Hairy monster.’ You know, things like that.” —Harper’s Bazaar, November 2011

19. Lady Gaga

“[I was] teased for being ugly, having a big nose, being annoying.” — Rolling Stone, June 2011

20. Rihanna

“I got teased my entire school life. What they were picking on I don’t even understand. It was my skin color. Then when I got older, it was about my breasts.” —Glamour, September 2013.

21. Tyra Banks

“I turned 11 years old and I grew three inches and lost 30 pounds, went to a new school and became the girl that was super bullied. I was the weirdo. I was the freak.” —Popstar!, September 2011

22. Beyoncé

“Of course I’ve had an ugly period. When I was around 10 or 11, my mother gave me this really ugly haircut and I was really, really chubby. So chubby that my family used to all lay me down flat so they could zip up my jeans. It took four of them and I would lie there on the bed while they all got to it.” —Glamour UK, June 2009

23. Kate Winslet

“I had been bullied at school. They called me Blubber … I wasn’t the prettiest. I was even told that I might be lucky in my acting if I was happy to settle for the fat-girl parts.” —WE Day UK, March 2017

24. Jessica Chastain

“I remember being eight years old. I was a late bloomer. I had very, very short red hair. Very freckly … I was told every day at school that I was ugly.” —Glamour, October 2014

25. Jessica Alba

“I had buck teeth and pigeon toes. I had asthma attacks, so every time I played soccer or baseball, I would have to strap on an oxygen mask. It is so embarrassing when you’re sitting there with an oxygen mask next to a guy you think is really cute. It was hell being a kid.” —The Telegraph, July 2005

25 Celebrities on Their ‘Ugly Duckling’ Phase