I’ve been thinking a lot about this interview with Lisa Kudrow about the nose job she got when she was in high school.
My first thought is that I want to go back in time and hug teenaged Lisa Kudrow. I want to tell her that it sounds like she made the best choice possible given the options she had. But I also want to tell her that it sucks big time that society presented her with so few options, that it’s unbelievably shitty for a young girl to think that her only chance not to feel hideous is to surgically alter her face.
Most of all, I want to tell her that I get it, because I’ve been there. And if surgery had seemed like a viable option when I was fifteen, I probably would have jumped at the chance. But it wasn’t, so I just had to live with how my nose looked, and eventually I learned to like it. I’m not entirely sure, though, that telling a fifteen year old to suck it up and wait it out until they feel loveable is the best way to go.
I hated my nose for a long time. A long, long time. It’s large and pointy, and, as my friend Steve once helpfully remarked, it’s hooked, like an eagle’s beak. It’s what, on a man, would be called “strong” or “aquiline” – on a petite woman, it looks out of place, or so I thought. My sister once told me that my squinty eyes and prominent nose gave me a rat-like appearance. A friend once avoided the question of whether I had an ugly nose by telling me that I have a nice personality. The first time I saw Cyrano de Bergerac I cried, because I thought I would have to spend the rest of my life composing eloquent love letters for friends who wanted to date the dudes that I liked. I hated my nose.
For a really long time, I would only let people take pictures of me from head-on; I avoided shots of my profile at all costs. I looked up makeup techniques that would somehow minimize the appearance of my nose. I kept my hair long so that I could tilt my head and let my hair fall forward, covering my face. I thought about getting a nose job. My grandmother once told me to get a nose job. Or rather, she said, “Annie, you only live once, and you only get one body. If surgery will make you feel happier living in the body you’ve been given, then more power to you.”
Not long after that conversation, my cousin, whose nose resembled mine, really did get a nose job. I worried that when I saw her I would feel envious, but I didn’t. I just felt sad.
Mostly I feel sad that we live in a world where there is such a narrow definition of beauty for women. I feel sad that I scrutinize every photograph of me that goes online, because I don’t want people to think that I’m “ugly.” I feel sad that when I put on makeup it seems more like painting on a mask, one that will hide or at least distract people from my actual face. I feel sad that I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling so goddamn unattractive.
I have, somewhat pathetically, tried to remedy this situation by getting outside validation for my appearance, but that’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? Relying on people other than myself to make me feel attractive is foolish and misguided at best. First of all, doing that puts a lot of pressure on my friends and family to constantly reassure me that yes, I am pretty, and no, I’m not ugly. I mean, it’s fine to like compliments and everything, but requiring them as some sort of clause in our friendship contract isn’t cool. Second of all, feeling that I need an outside source to provide me with self-esteem just isn’t sustainable. Third of all, when I feel bad about my appearance, it doesn’t matter how many compliments you lob at me, I’m just not going to believe them.
Part of the problem is the format in which I tend to look for validation; usually it’s by posting pictures of myself on Facebook or Twitter. But it’s well within my power to make sure that those pictures don’t necessarily contain what I think is the truth. That doesn’t mean that I edit or doctor these photographs in any way, but I do tend to do things like take pictures in full sunlight, so that my face is completely washed out, or hold the camera above my head, so that it’s a more “flattering” angle. I’ll also often take twenty or more pictures of myself in a row and then delete most of them for being too ugly. And if most of my selfies are ugly, if the vast majority of pictures of myself make me cringe, then doesn’t that mean that the select few that make it to a public platform are really lies? So even the pictures where I think I look good somehow end up making me feel bad.
Look at it this way: yes, I can take photographs and look at these images that I’ve created and recognize that the subject is, in fact, attractive in a mostly conventional way. But that doesn’t mean that I can recognize that I, myself, am attractive in a mostly conventional way; it only means that I know how to use things like angles and lighting and sneaky makeup tricks in order to produce a static version of myself that I find palatable. And then I can take these photographs and post them to social media sites and receive positive feedback on them, but again, that doesn’t so much make me feel attractive as it makes me feel like a liar and a manipulator.
I always worry when meeting someone offline for the first time about how they will react to my appearance. I worry that they will think that I’ve misrepresented myself, made myself seem prettier, my skin smoother, my nose less prominent.
I always worry that when friends who know me in real life see the pictures that I post online, they just roll their eyes at how unlike me these photographs are.
I always worry that I’m never, ever going to learn to love how I look.
I am learning, though, albeit slowly. Over the past year or two my nose has gone from being this huge blemish on my face to being something about myself that I like a lot. It’s different, and it makes my face more interesting. It gives me character, makes me appear somehow both dignified and a bit oddball. It just plain looks kinda good.
I wish it hadn’t taken me twenty some-odd years to learn to love my nose, though. Nobody should have to feel that badly about themselves for that long. And though it would be easy to blame the kids who teased me or grownups who rolled their eyes and told me to get over it, the problem is so much bigger than that. The problem is that we only ever see women who fit one specific model of beauty in the media. The problem is that we put way too much emphasis on women’s appearance, and not enough on their thoughts or character or actions. The problem is that we criticize people for posting selfies “for attention,” but don’t ever talk about why those people might want, maybe even need, positive attention paid to their looks. The problem is that there are so many problems and I don’t even know how to start solving them.
Here’s my first, faltering step at trying to find some kind of solution. A picture of my nose, in all of its enormous, pointy glory.