What's Pretty, Anyway?
Updated: Jul 8
I think that's how the line went. Barbra Streisand asks her mother, played by Lauren Bacall, "Am I pretty?" She responds, "What's pretty, anyway?" Oddly enough, neither one of them is/was classically beautiful. Lauren Bacall had a very intense look about her, but it sure worked for Humphrey Bogart. And Barbra? Well, she's just.....Barbra. It's like another old saying, "She's beautiful when the light hits her just right. You just can't always depend on that light." I don't think she is unattractive at all, but I do believe that her true beauty is in her incredible talent.
It's said that funny is the new sexy, and I happen to agree with that. I mean, honestly, if you look at some of the famous men out there today who look like they've been smashed in the face with a concrete block, then look at their supermodel wives, you pretty much know that there is one of two things going on. There's either some magic happening below his belt, or there is something about his personality that is insanely attractive to women (or men). Intellect, kindness, loyalty, humor, a voice that sends shivers up your spine and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Let's just use as an example Steve Buscemi. It's no secret that he's got eyeballs that look like they are trying desperately to make an escape (in different directions), and his teeth are something akin to an Amtrak train car pileup. Personally, though, I find him very attractive, because he is unbelievably talented and smart and is known to be a kind man. I also think that he is genius for NOT fixing his teeth. He would not be Steve Buscemi without them.
The same goes for women. What do you think attracted Melissa McCarthy to her husband Ben Falcone? We all know that she is not the "standard" body type. Neither is he, for that matter. But their collective talents make them a highly sought after couple in Hollywood. It just works.
We all know that women are held to much higher standards than men. But there is no higher standard than the one we hold for ourselves. I turn 54 on August 11. That blows my damn mind. It's no secret, either, that I am not very happy with the way I look and feel right now. It is a DARK time in the galaxy for this former hottie. If I went through something like this when I was 22, it would result in massive PTSD and the long term effects would be devastating for future relationships. Thankfully, I've grown and matured, and I know what's happening doesn't have to be permanent. It ain't easy, though!
I didn't even find my curves until after high school. I was thin, but pretty much just straight up and down.
I didn't consider myself particularly attractive, but not gnaw-your-foot-off-to-escape ugly, either. Then I met Ray Kennedy in the lobby of Kenan Auditorium the summer of 1985, and suddenly I was a swan. A young, virgin one, but a swan nonetheless. Ray worked his magic on me the way he has on so many others, male and female, with his innate talent for finding your strengths and bringing them to the forefront. By the end of that summer I could pop my leg into showgirl faster than you can pull up YouTube on your phone today. He also got me my first cruise ship job, so a week before I was to start classes at East Carolina University, I called and told them I wasn't coming, and two days after I turned 18 I was on a plane to Tampa, Florida.
So here I am with my budding talent (oh, did I mention Ray taught me how to belt, too?) and my budding beauty, out of Mommy and Daddy's house and living life. Keep in mind this is the mid-80s and drugs and alcohol were everywhere, and unfortunately, so was AIDS. Thankfully, I never had any interest in snorting cocaine off a desk in a cheap hotel room that we had all rented for our one day off a week, and I managed to keep my virginity (mostly) intact the entire four months I was on that ship.
Four years and three cruise ships later, and I was ROCKIN' it.
I was dancing 2 shows a night, spending my days tanning on deck, walking for exercise when we were in port, and here's a swift kick to the punjabs - I ate only when I was hungry, not because I was bored, or sad, or happy. Of course, we as a group always did enjoy going to restaurants on our nights in port, but I never overdid it. As I think back on it now, my body was at its peak. My talent still had a long way to go.
Over the years my personal definition of what pretty means changed dramatically. I had a very large child in 1995, 9 lbs 14 oz to be exact, and my body was VERY different. What I was not prepared for, though, was how it would change my voice. Nine months after my son was born, I did what I consider to be the best version of Phantom of the Opera, simply called Phantom. I played Christine, and during rehearsals I realized that I was having a LOT of trouble reaching those B flats that I could just roll out of bed and belt out effortlessly a few years before. I was apoplectic! What I think singers don't realize is that after childbirth, your voice develops a deeper, more velvety quality than it had before. Which I had to learn to embrace.
With every year that passed, I would find (either through Ray or through my work with Lou Criscuolo) new talents within myself that I never even knew I had. Great comic timing being one of them, and my inner black R&B singer made her first appearance in about 2003. By then I was in my thirties, had had another (large) child, and my body was continuing to change. Unfortunately it was not for the better, although I did manage to get myself back into some sort of fighting shape in the summer of 2003.
I also became smarter and wiser, not just about life but as a nurse. I started working at the bedside in 2009, and realized that I had been blessed with yet another gift. That of caretaker, consoler, and advocate. I went back to school to get my BSN and finished with a 3.9 GPA. In the ICU I learned how to calmly and efficiently care for a patient who was ventilated, sedated, paralyzed (with drugs), 20 different drips going at once, and usually running bedside dialysis at the same time. I became a critical thinker with a three octave vocal range.
Over time, my talents and my body became at odds. I was getting older, heavier, more depressed, but I was also getting some fantastic roles on stage. No more ingenue for me - I was getting the tough, meaty roles. I couldn't go back to the fluff now if I wanted to. And I don't. But my body bothered me. I became more and more self-conscious, but not enough to actually do anything about it.
The last few years have seen me gain more weight than I ever have, but also brought me the role that changed my life, that of Florence Foster Jenkins in SOUVENIR! with my beloved Michael Lauricella. I won my first Wilmington Theatre Award (but it's not about awards, right?)
I've got a couple of other projects I'm looking at and am very excited about, but my health has to come first right now.
I think what happens as we age is that our definition of what is pretty (or attractive or sexy or whatever you want to call it) evolves with us. I was 119 pounds and in the best shape of my life when I did A Chorus Line in 1991. I am now 291 pounds and miserable with how I look. That 9lb 14oz baby I had back in 1995 is getting married in six weeks, and I have nothing decent to wear and can honestly say I dread being in wedding photos. Because of COVID, I rarely wear makeup anymore, and that is just fine with me.
I am still beautiful. But what makes me beautiful has changed. That slim belly I used to have now has scars from C-sections, tummy tucks, hernia repairs, and several other procedures. The 34B perky little tats I used to have are now starting to reach for my belly button, and when I'm laying flat they get stuck in my armpits (girls, y'all know what I'm talkin about!) There's still a dancer's body under here somewhere, but it is hidden by all the extra pounds and lost muscle that I am going to have to work VERY hard to find.
But I am beautiful. I'm not just considered beautiful by the flirty guys at work or the friends who call to tell me I'm beautiful only when they've had a few drinks. I'm beautiful to my children, who love me no matter what. I'm beautiful to my grandchild, who grins from ear to ear when she sees me. I'm beautiful to the patients I sing to, whose hands I hold, whose pain I take away. I'm even still beautiful to my fans, who keep asking when I'm going to be onstage again, particularly in SOUVENIR!, a show I would do again in a heartbeat.
What's pretty, anyway? Well, it's whatever it is about you that brings another person joy, peace, passion, respect, etc. If you just happen to have a killer bod at the same time, then more power to ya! If you don't, only the right person is going to take the time to look beyond our physical appearance and see what's pretty inside.
I'm a pretty girl, Mama.