I have a big nose.
There. I said it. Wow… I’ve spent most of my life trying to ignore this subject. However, at some point, you just have to take action or get over it. I have tried to do both and have finally come to this conclusion: I don’t want to get over it – I want to own it.
Yet, I still remember every reference made to my nose in my life.
When I was twelve years old I went from thinking I was a beautiful princess to a hideous ogre in the space of a few minutes. A male classmate I had never spoken to walked by, smiling. I actually thought he was going to flirt with me, instead he greeted me with: “Hey big nose!” Pow! Pow! Pow! His words hit me like bullets. I ran to the bathroom to look at my face in the mirror. I examined myself first from the front and then turned my head to the side. And there it was… my huge honker. My adolescent insecurity screamed in horror: “How have I never notice this before?” I struggled through the rest of my classes and when I got home I melted into a sobbing wet mess.
Not long after that event, I was walking home from school when two men in a small truck drove by. “Hey scarecrow,” one of them shouted (I was a skinny kid), “don’t let your nose fly away!” It was a weird and awful insult to be thrown at a young girl. Though I can now console myself with knowing that grown men who shout horrible things at children have bigger problems than an abnormally large proboscis, back then it sent me into paroxysms of tears.
For many years after that, I searched through magazines looking for models whose noses were not cute little buttons. I looked for pictures of attractive women whose noses had bumps and asked family and friends if the model’s nose was similar to mine. Whatever their answer was, it did not console me. Like most teenagers, my self esteem was very dependent on the opinions of others. When I mentioned to a trusted friend that I thought my nose was big she replied, “What? That bump in the middle? It’s cute!” My self confidence would pick up for a while but then it would take a (excuse the pun) nose dive every time I heard the Morrissey song with the line “…there’s someone with a big nose who knows...” I don’t remember what the name of that song is and frankly I don’t give a shit enough to look it up because screw you Morrissey!
Perhaps it was cute for a teenager to have a bump in her nose, but it definitely grew less cute as I got older. After a night of clubbing with my friends we went to a taqueria for obligatory greasy food. As I stared up at the menu, the very drunken woman in front of me thought I was staring at her. “What are you looking at you BIG NOSE BITCH?!”she shouted and her boyfriend grabbed her arm and dragged her outside. I went home and cried like I did when I was a kid.
I decided that something must be done, so I researched rhinoplasty procedures. While gathering data for the expensive procedure I accidentally came across photos of nose jobs being performed. It was the grossest thing I had ever seen. I was horrified by the images of noses being ripped all the way back while long metal instruments were inserted. It reminded me of a lobotomy. At that point, plastic surgery was no longer an option.
I thought I could just suck it up and stop feeling insecure. Then I started working with teenagers. Psychotic teenagers. Psychotic teenagers who would get very, very angry with me. Every insult imaginable was hurled at me, but the ones that hurt the most were in reference to my nose because I agreed with them. One boy liked to call me Gonzo. An angry girl screamed “Big nose! Big nose! Big nose!” at me. There were a few nights I went home and cried because it cut so deep.
I almost dumped my husband when we started dating because he has a big nose as well. We went to a concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco and headed straight to the bar. While Jeff ordered our drinks, an old man, who already had a few drinks in him, turned to us and said: “Did you two start dating because of your noses?” I wanted to punch him in the face, but at that moment the bartender handed me my drink and I swallowed it in one gulp (the ONLY time I’ve ever been able to do that). For a long time after, I wondered if our friends secretly referred to us as “the noses.”
It was my husband who helped me feel more secure about my looks and more open to talking about my nose, a subject I completely avoided before. It had never even occurred to him that a nose was a big deal. He didn’t care about his nose or my nose or what anyone else thought of us.
Years later, I gave birth to the most beautiful little girl in the world. She’s almost four now and it will be a few years before her features come into sharper focus. Sometimes people examine her face and say, “I’m trying to figure out who she gets her nose from.” I always jokily responded with: “I hope she doesn’t get it from either of us!”
To be able to joke about my nose is a big step for me. Now I am moving another step forward in order to acknowledge my own beauty. I am not beautiful despite of my nose, it is a part of me that makes me unique. I have a big nose, thin lips, chubby cheeks and pockmarked skin. And I am beautiful. I have suffered, triumphed and made my place in the world. And this is what true beauty is.
I am finally comfortable in my own skin and I want Lily to have the same self confidence. I do not want her self-esteem to be dependent on the myopic view of beauty others may hold. I’ve met many women who are not traditionally beautiful, but have an aura of self confidence that makes them nothing short of stunning. These are the women we all want to be, the ones who overcome obstacles and live to be rock star ninjas.
I joke with Lily about my nose. As I said, I can do that now. “Does Mommy have a big nose?” I ask. “Yes!” She squeals and we both laugh. Later, she tells me I am beautiful and I tell her that she is beautiful over and over again. Then I try to explain how beauty comes from the inside. She is a bit young to get that, but my hope is if I keep giving her this message from an early age she will internalize it.
Of course there are some days I hope her nose stays a cute little button because it will be easier for her to feel good about herself. But a big nose can be a relatively easy obstacle to overcome. Compared to a child who fights for physical or emotional survival every day, a big nose is nothing. We can all carry suffering, large or small, with us throughout our lives. But we can learn to wear our
survival triumph like a light that shines from within – evidence of our self worth, hard fought for and won. It protects us from the beasts, inside and without, who want us to feel worthless. And it makes us beautiful.
My hope is that Lily is one of the special ones who never doubts her self worth. May she always know that it doesn’t come from her outward appearance. I want her to be a bad ass, confident woman who owns her self esteem and doesn’t worry about what others think of her. Even if they shout it from a passing truck.