“What am I going to do with you if you keep looking at me with those eyes?” said the man in the hat.
I twirl the straw in my whiskey. We’ve only met two drinks ago, and I have no idea what he’s going to do. Nothing, as it turns out later.
My eyes are big and brown and haven’t changed as I’ve aged. They are still inquisitive and rimmed with long lashes. I don’t happen to think they’re my best feature, but the man in the hat thinks they’re beautiful.
A few weeks later another man–a very married photographer friend–declares randomly, “You know what’s the prettiest part of you? Your bottom lip.”
My bottom lip? But the man in the hat said my eyes.
“Your eyes are pretty too,” the photographer says, pausing as though studying me like one of his compositions, “But your bottom lip is gorgeous.”
Beauty is indeed a thing no one can absolutely agree upon. For a guy trying to pick me up in a dark bar it was the eyes. For a friend whose whole life is art it’s the bottom lip. I’m curious to know what men I’ve actually dated find beautiful about me.
Since most of my ex-boyfriends become my best girlfriends I ask them. It feels awkward, like I’m fishing for an unauthorized confidence boost. But I really don’t know how else to get answers.
What is beautiful about me?
“It was the way you talked,” says the clever musician. “It was silly, eccentric. That’s what I found attractive.”
The way I talk? I love to talk and am often concerned I’m saying too much and hijacking conversations. But upon first meeting, at a time when he knew very little of or about me, the way I gesticulate wildly and tell animated, detailed stories about nothing was not only interesting, but apparently beautiful.
I unleash the question upon the rugby player, a Greek statue of a man who doesn’t skip a beat.
“You happen to life, you don’t let it happen to you,” he claims before expounding, “You influence–impact, I think would be a better way to put it.”
And that’s beautiful?
“I think so,” he says seriously, almost daring me to accept the compliment.
Like many women I have a hard time taking a compliment. I think it’s written somewhere in the girl handbook. But it was pointed out to me that defining beauty isn’t about conceit. Instead it is the measure of confidence.
It was much easier to ask the question than to accept the answers, or worse yet (gasp!) answer the question for myself.
So, deep breath, here we go:
I love my breasts and my bottom and those pouty lips too. I have hair that belongs in a shampoo commercial. Sometimes I snort when I laugh and when I smile I scrunch up my entire face. But those are not my most beautiful qualities. No. Not even close.
I am kind, generous. I am a fiercely loyal friend. I believe in the possibilities. I live for the journey. I am stubborn. Defiant. Silly. Serious. I am a walking contradiction, always and never the same.
And it took the men who know me most intimately to remind me of all this. The men who have seen me both all dolled up and completely dressed down. The men who have seen me fragile and scared. The men who after dating me still wanted to be my friends. They have answered the mysterious question.
My eyes and lips are nice enough. But my character is luminous.
–by Leah M. Charney
Charney is sassy yet classy and thinks that’s beautiful.
Appeared in Women’s Magazine, December 2009.