ugly duckling

an unattractive or unpromising child who becomes a beautiful or much-admired adult.

1880–85; after the bird in the story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
ugly duckling
a person or thing, initially ugly or unpromising, that changes into something beautiful or admirable
[an allusion to The Ugly Duckling, a story by Hans Christian Andersen]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

ugly duckling

A homely or unpromising individual who grows into an attractive or talented person, as in She was the family ugly duckling but blossomed in her twenties. This term alludes to Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale about a cygnet hatched with ducklings that is despised for its clumsiness until it grows up into a beautiful swan. The tale was first translated into English in 1846, and the term was used figuratively by 1871.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
But invasive species aren't always an ugly duckling and emotions can run high
  against efforts to remove them.
He was the ugly duckling where he came from, and he's worshipped here.
The ugly duckling becomes a swan and exacts her revenge in this complex drama.
It must have been extremely difficult to be the ugly duckling in a family of
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