It was early spring 2011 when I sat down with a magazine editor in Toronto to pitch my art portfolio. I started talking about my work but the man, whose name I’ve now forgotten, interrupted and asked me to take off my glasses. Then he observed what I had hoped was not obvious to the world beyond my own critical eye. “You have the most asymmetrical face I have ever seen,” he said. He wasn’t wrong.
I have no idea why my body fails in the math of symmetry. My nose is the most noticeable deviant from a face that should typically mirror itself from left to right. The bridge of my nose is bumped; my dad’s side of the family call it the “Robb nose,” my maiden name, because we all have it. What they don’t have is the slight tilt to the right. To top it off, my nostrils are also uneven.
When did I first notice my imperfect nose? It must have been early in my life because I have the distinct memory of wishing I had no nose or ears at all as I found them unattractive globs of skin and cartilage. “If I didn’t have a nose and ears, my face would be perfect,” I thought as a young child, maybe five years old. Obviously twenty five years later I’m thankful for both, they hold up my glasses for one, my chunky frames that sit on the bridge of my “Robb nose,” disguising its bump ever so slightly.
In a recent embarrassing moment of self-pity, lamenting my flaws, my husband delicately suggested I get a nose job if it would make me happy. At first I was hurt; how could he ever bring up such a thing? Did my nose offend him like it did me? He quickly dismissed the idea, adding that I don’t need to get my nose fixed, I’m beautiful the way I am and he loves me unconditionally – but if I wanted cosmetic surgery, he said he would support my choice.
That conversation started my contemplation of nose jobs. I imagined watching a surgeon morph my appearance on a computer screen and saying, “this is what you will look like.” I also began reflecting on the job of a nose itself.
A nose helps us breath, is an instrument of smell and a polite way to conceal snot. The nose divides the face, most of the time. I began to wonder: Is it also the job of a nose to be pretty? Does the nose owe it to the world to be an aesthetic object, a sculpture of the face?
Noses seem to say a lot about a person, their culture, and what is perceived as beauty. Some judge on preconceived notions of shape and size. Pointy noses belong to the strict, long straight noses to the snobby, crooked bumpy noses to athletes and cute button noses to babies. Even in children’s literature, illustrations play off these stereotypes. Witches always have humped and pointed noses with hairy warts. Noses are also a subconscious factor in relationships. You’d never hear a guy say, “Oh man, that girl’s so hot, just look at her nose,” yet the facial feature contains the irrefutable power to off-put a potential partner.
Contemplating plastic surgery, I think about everything my nose and I have been through; the soccer balls to the face, the bleeding nose, the sunburned nose, smelling my newborn children’s skin, the cowardly nose that chickened out of being pierced, the nose that cracks audibly if I rub it just so. Would I recognize myself after a nose job? I’m scared I may hate it and long for my old nose back, grimacing at the reflection of my changed profile in the mirror. I’m also scared I would love my new nose. I’ve heard plastic surgery is an addiction, like tattoos; once you get started you begin daydreaming about the next procedure and the next. Would I eventually join the race of the tight-faces, the ones that wear no expression on their brow?
I remember a story that came out not that long ago about a teenager who had her nose and ears altered because of bullying. The tone of the article was remorseful that a child would be tormented for her appearance but more so that the girl and her parents would go to such lengths for her to be socially accepted. Yet everyone deserves happiness, right? I don’t fault that family; I too was teased as a child, although plastic surgery wasn’t in my vocabulary back then. I’ve been uncomfortable with my appearance for as long as I can remember. Maybe taking control over my happiness with surgery would be empowering.
Then I look at my four year old daughter. What example would I set for her? My greatest wish is that she’ll see the beauty in herself and others, and be confident in who she is. I hope she can show herself love.
When I’ve talked about my appearance with my mom she always reminds me of Hugh Grant’s teeth. “Look – he’s not perfect, he didn’t get braces and women love him, imperfections and all. Flaws give people character.” Mom also praises Diane Keaton these days as a celebrity embracing her age and wrinkles with grace. Diane’s stance seems to give people permission to embrace what the media tells us is ugly; to love the skin we’re in.
Is it also possible I can learn to love my nose? I owe it to myself, to my long history with my nose, to give it a try before going under the knife. Maybe the true job of my nose is to teach me self-focused compassion and acceptance. I hope the next time someone asks me to take off my glasses to appraise my asymmetry I’ll give them my most proud, albeit lopsided, smile because I have learned to inhabit my body with love.