Wednesday, November 21, 2018

My Big Nose

Shots at profile angle still give me anxiety, but I'm getting more comfortable with them


I could feel her eyes on me as I sat at the coffee table figuring out the value of ‘x’ on my pre-algebra homework. My Masi (aunt) was visiting from India. It was her usual yearly visit where her presence brought with it a comfort; from the scent of her perfume to her infectious laughter while watching American television. Ever since she had arrived a few days earlier, she kept commenting on how much I’d grown since the previous year. A pretty typical comment every time she came to our house, but this year it was said with a little bit more investigation in her eyes. I was in 7thgrade, struggling to figure out the social constructs of junior high while keeping up with the increasing academic responsibilities. My mother served some nastas (Indian snacks) to have with their chai, and they settled in to enjoy General Hospital. I stared at my homework when I heard my Masi say something to my mom without a hint of discretion.

“Aha! I know what’s so different. Sheevani’s nose got big.”

Up until that moment, I hadn’t really thought about my looks in general, much less my nose. I mean, at 12 years old, there were some unsettling changes that were happening, and my tween brain was working overtime to figure it all out. Many of the things I’d half-forgotten from 5thgrade sex ed came screaming back when I looked at my body; from embarrassing breast buds to sparse pubes. The journey from 6thgrade (which was still elementary school for me) to 7thpresented this mystifying world, where the same friends with whom I was playing 4-square just a few months earlier, were now wearing training bras and French kissing boys. 

My Masi wasn’t trying to be cruel. Call it cultural or just a trait of my family, but bluntness was a part of being around my relatives. My mother once told me the story of a visit to India after having my brother. Her usual petite frame wasn’t quite the same between the baby weight and months of eating American food, and her family didn’t hesitate to tell her she’d really packed on the pounds. I recoiled as she told that story, but she said, “What’s the big deal? If they don’t tell me, then who will?” So, when my mother’s sister sat on the couch and announced that my nose had “blown up,” (loose translation from Gujurati), I knew she hadn’t turned into some evil demon. She made an innocent observation and I was enlightened to a new physical insecurity. 

Look, I would have figured it out anyway. I spent a lot of time in front of the mirror as a kid. Mostly to make funny faces and master some impressions of people I knew, but also to investigate the changes in my face along the way. After that particular day, I took my mother’s hand mirror into my room, positioned myself in front of my dresser mirror and angled the hand mirror in such a way that I could see my profile. Yup, that was a schnoz, alright. No one really sees their profile very often, but from that moment forward, I’d look at it on a daily basis. I felt the more I looked, the more I’d be okay with it… or something. Honestly, I’m not sure the real reason, but safe to say I became obsessed with my nose.

Weirdo Things I Did with My Nose  
·     Pinched it for minutes at a time in hopes of reducing the width
·     Avoided any pics that showed my profile
·     Destroyed any pics that showed my profile
·     Measured the length and width so I could draw it to scale
o  This was done in hopes that, on paper, it wouldn’t look so big (the results proved to be the opposite)
·     Drew and cut out small nose shapes and held them up to my profile to imagine myself with a smaller nose
·     Selected which celeb nose I’d choose should I ever get a nose job (I believe Courtney Cox won)
·     Covered it completely in my reflection to imagine myself with no nose at all

Obviously, it was all about vanity and feeling attractive. Dudes weren’t exactly swarming me at that time, and while that could have been for a number of reasons, I zeroed in on my prominent beak as the main cause. At my hostess job in high school, one waiter would flirt with me quite a bit. He was in his late 20s and had a Dana Carvey quality that was very endearing. One day, after seeing that I assigned him a pretty busy section where he’d make a lot of tips, he put his arm around me and said, “Sheevani, you’re the best. I’ve always had a thing for girls with big noses.” 

I laugh SO hard when I think of that moment now. I mean, who the hell says that?! Now, you may think I had to run to the restroom to sob, but his off-hand com-sult (compliment + insult) taught me something that I hadn’t thought of before: Everyone finds different things attractive. I had been looking at beauty in such a small scope where perfection was the only option. So, thank you creepy-waiter-who-had-no-business-hitting-on-a-16-year-old, you taught me a valuable lesson. I wasn’t cured, by any means, but that moment sticks in my mind as sort of a turning point about my perception of being attractive. 

My mother was, and still is, the epitome of beauty in my eyes. Whether it was a regular day or fancy occasion, I always thought she was the most beautiful woman in the room. She never acknowledged her beauty, but she certainly took pride in her appearance. As a cosmetologist, my mom was expected to look her best at the salon, so every morning there was a ritual of hair and make-up that took time, precision and expertise. One day in high school, she told me how a co-worker asked if she’d had a nose job. “Why would she think that?” my mother said, “I have such a big nose!” 

This was the first time I’d ever heard my mom say anything about her looks. My instinct was to say, “No you don’t, Mummy! You’re so pretty!” But, since she didn’t say it with a hint of shame, I just absorbed her resolve. That moment taught me so much about accepting yourself with humility. And yeah, my mom has a big nose, it is big and beautiful. I had associated a big nose with being unattractive for so long that when I realized my own mother, who was the standard of beauty for me, donned her nose with pride, I really woke up.

Do I feel ridiculous dedicating an entire blog entry to a physical feature? A little bit. But, unless the world drastically changes overnight, comparing oneself to the societal standard of physical beauty will always exist. One thing I promised myself when my daughter was born was to never put myself down in her presence. She’ll never hear me say, “I wish I was skinnier,” or, “These wrinkles are so ugly,” or “I hate my big nose.” Her insecurities will arrive no matter what I do, but I certainly won’t be the cause of them. She may come to me one day in tears because she hates something about her body, and I’ll listen, honor her feelings and share everything about my past and present insecurities that may help. But I want her to see me own them. I want her to see me take care of myself, not to be “perfect” but instead to show how that care will shine through in ways beyond the physical. 

Today, I own this honker. Sure, I watch a fair amount of make-up tutorials on nose contouring and I tense up at a shoot when the camera is at profile angle, but overall, I’m at a place where I don’t often imagine rhinoplasty as an option. As an improv and sketch comedian, it’s an asset, just ask anyone who has seen into my brain as I flare my nostrils on stage. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was once quoted as saying, “A woman should never worry about being pretty while being funny.” That has stuck with me throughout my life. Between making people swoon at a perfect face or laugh at a funny face, I choose the latter in a heartbeat.

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