"Bedda" means "beautiful" in Sicilian.
“Nanna” means “grandmother.”
“Bedda da Nanna” is a term of endearment that roughly translates as “grandmother’s beautiful one.” It is an expression of love that conveys a sense of belonging. It is the sound of arms wrapped around you.
I began this series of photographs as a way of reminding my grandmother of her beauty. For as long as I can remember, my Nanna has exuded confidence. She never seemed to doubt herself in anything she did, and when it came to feeling beautiful, she had a deep and genuine appreciation of her beauty. I had never seen anyone claim beauty in that way: humbly, authentically, yet with unshakable certainty that she was indeed profoundly beautiful. It was almost as if she believed that beauty was this force of nature that existed simultaneously beyond and within her. It didn’t make her any better or worse; it simply was a part of her, a matter of fact.
My grandmother has never spent much time in front of the mirror. But in recent months, she has noticed her reflection in the camera on my cell phone. “Matri, comu mi fici brutta,” she’ll say, “Oh my, how ugly I’ve gotten.” “Mi fici vecchia,” she’ll declare. “I’ve gotten old.” I tell her that’s not true, but she doesn’t seem to believe me. Maybe it’s the dementia, I wonder. Maybe the inner world to which she retreats increasingly more often doesn’t match the reflection that she sees. Maybe she’s forgotten how many years she has lived, in the way she sometimes forgets that my grandfather has died. She spent 71 years with him and now 15 months without him. It’s hard to recognize beauty with a broken heart. If seeing her reflection was making her feel less beautiful, then I would use my camera to show her how beautiful she really was.
As I began to think about why it hurts so much to hear my grandmother call herself ugly, I realized that her acknowledgement of beauty is one of her greatest gifts to me. I felt beautiful because she felt beautiful. Because ever since I was a little girl, people in our hometown used to say how I looked exactly like her. Because my grandfather used to take my hands in his and say, “Bollata.“ Stamped, as if an exact replica. Because when clothes wouldn’t fit and my hair would be wild and my thighs would rub from walking in the August heat, I would resist cursing out those things, because how could I hate something that my grandmother had given to me?
This project is about reminding my Nanna that she is as bedda as she’s always been. But it is also my attempt to acknowledge that maybe we are, together. Maybe it is in recognizing that beauty is both beyond and within us, that we can honor beauty with the same depth, authenticity, and humility that my Nanna always has.
With gratitude to:
A.H., D.O., E.S., E.V., F.d.l.M., J.H., J.F., J.K., L.B., L.W., M.d.R., P.E., R.O., R.W., and the great G.P.