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"A Conversation with a Beautiful Woman, my mom" by Leah Donnella

I remember being gawky, and ten, with braces, a frizzy mop of hair in a bun, and bad posture. I wore gray leisure pants and a t-shirt every single day. Sometimes I wore pajama pants underneath the leisure pants to stay warm. I was too tall for myself. My eyebrows were dark and intense. I didn’t know when to smile. These qualities were fodder for ridicule from children and adults alike. I was told I looked less like a girl than my friends did. I was told I looked dirty. I was told I looked “crackwhore skinny.” These comments baffled me. It never occurred to that I wasn’t the most beautiful being on the planet. It still hasn’t.

So tonight, I went to the source of my bizarrely inflated self-image to see where these thoughts might have stemmed from. Hence,

A Conversation with a Beautiful Woman, my mom:

Sunday, March 14, late evening

Leah: Do you think I’m beautiful?

Mom: I do think you’re beautiful. Did you ever doubt that?

Thursday, March 19, early evening

L: Do you think I’m beautiful?

M: I do. You already asked me that, you know.

Thursday, March 26, mid-evening

L: I’m interviewing you now.

M: Okay. Is this the only reason you called?

L: Yes. Do you think I’m beautiful?

M: (Laughs) I do. No, I don’t think so. I know you are.

L: Why?

M: Because you have a…you have large expressive eyes, you have terrific cheekbones, you have a wonderful head of hair, you’ve got a well-shaped body that seems to have an athletic tone to it, and you have, you convey a sense of inner peace and serenity coupled with a sense of humor and curiosity that shines through your eyes and gives you both a liveliness and at the same time a calm that is unusual to see but that I find aesthetically pleasing. You also have well-shaped and proportioned lips, and a nose that I adore. And a beautifully even and delightful skin tone. And very beautiful skin texture.

L: Have you always thought I was beautiful?

M: (Pause) Yes.

L: Why did you hesitate?

M: Because I thought that if I answered too quickly that I was just being a biased mother. So I was surveying in my mind whether there was any point when I thought you were not beautiful, and the answer was no. Was that part of the survey?

L: No. What’s my best quality?

M: Physically or overall?

L: Either.

M: Well, I mean that’s, I’d have to specify. I would have to say your kindness, without it being too syrupy. You know, you’re kind, but you’re not syrupy.

L: Do I become more beautiful every day?

M: I would say that you are like Joe Namath in that regard. He wrote a book called I Can’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow ‘Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day. And I would say that that suits you. Yes, you get better looking as time goes on. Although I will say this – I find that you are beautiful for each stage of life that you’re in. You get better looking for the stage of life that you’re in, so whether you get better looking is hard to say. You get better looking for the age you are becoming. You were a very beautiful sixteen-year-old for a sixteen-year-old.

L: Who else do you think beautiful?

M: Ah, can we put family aside?

L: Sure.

M: Okay. Let me think, who else do I think is beautiful? I think, I think Beyoncé is beautiful. I think Catherine Zeta Jones is beautiful. I always thought that Audrey Hepburn was beautiful. I always thought Julie Andrews was beautiful. That Brazilian model, I’ve always thought was beautiful. Let me think, who else? Oh, you know who I think is beautiful? The woman on Scandal. I can’t remember her name.

L: Kerry Washington?

M: Yeah, I think she’s beautiful.

L: Do you think you’re beautiful?

M: I think there have been times in my life when I have, you know, I’ve had days when I’ve been beautiful. I don’t know if I would consider myself to be beautiful most of the time. But I’ve had isolated days where I thought I was. I feel like if I could get a week of a lot of rest, I could have another good day. But that might never happen again, so who knows.

L: I think you’re beautiful, Mom.

M: Well thank you honey, but this survey isn’t about me. Or maybe it is?

L: Is there anything else you would like to add about beauty?

M: Well, one thing that I would add about your beauty is that you also have a very mellifluous speaking voice, and that you could look like you and wind up speaking with, say, a heavy Philadelphia accent, and I would find it hard to find you beautiful at that point. The beauty of a person is the entire picture. Part of what strikes me about your beauty is it’s virtually impossible to destroy it. You can have no makeup on, be wearing your glasses, and wearing sweat clothes. You look better when you’ve had sleep, but it’s hard to detect when you haven’t. There are people who look better when they’re dressed up and made up and ready for a photo shoot, but those people don’t necessarily look beautiful in person. But to me, someone who is beautiful is genuinely beautiful without that stuff. The other thing is that someone who is mean and cruel or has no sense of humor, I find it hard to find beautiful. I know some people think that the woman who plays Bones is beautiful, but I find it hard to find her beautiful in that role. She just has a non-affect. You have such a reactive, expressive demeanor, I find to be one of the elements of your beauty.

L: Anything else?

M: Yes. I think any time one finds something beautiful, it is an emotional response, and that it is a response that is connected in some way that I’m not sure that I can articulate, but it’s connected to love, and that you don’t necessarily find something beautiful because you love it, I mean you may love it, but you recognize that, I think that when you love something, it becomes more aesthetically pleasing to you. Whether it be person or object. You can love something you don’t find extremely beautiful. You can’t find something beautiful without it evoking a sense of love. I for one couldn’t look at something and say, “Oh, that’s really beautiful, but I don’t really like it.” I feel like there has to be a positive emotional response as part of it.

L: That’s all the questions I have for you.

M: Was that really for a real purpose, other than me telling you how beautiful you are?

L: It’s for a thing, Mom.

M: Oh. All right.

L: I had nachos for dinner.

M: Well I had Wheat Thins with a combination of pepper jack and cheddar cheese. Which is very close to that.



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