It wasn’t the worst nose. Nobody would have looked at me and been like, “Damn, look at that huge nose.” But the bones in between my eyes rose into a hump and it was long enough to be considered ‘big.’ I knew this because people told me (i.e. “Alissa loves big noses. Yours is her favorite”).
I knew it wasn’t the worst nose. But I also knew that most of my friends who got hit on had smaller, ski-jumpier ones. Soon a nagging voice in my head drew me closer to the certainty that I had an objectively bad nose. People were just too nice to admit it was ugly.
WARNING: here comes the topic that’s been beaten to a pulp. Here’s the part about impossible beauty standards for women. About my past eating disorders. About how a 22-year-old girl who gets little male attention is somehow less valuable. Because the norm is for young girls to be skinny and flawless and inundated with cat-calling, drink-buying men. You know all this presumably. You’ve heard it. It’s boring. ‘I’m a privileged, young, white girl who is so lucky all she has to worry about is looking a certain way. I’m SO unique because I’m insecure and have taken extreme measures in an attempt to feel better.’ That’s not where this ends though.
Although society’s standards have hurt my body and mind, I accepted them as reality. And so began the internal struggle of how I would live with this reality. ‘If a person has the means to undergo a procedure to help their self-esteem, why not do it? Yes, it’s perpetuating the same values I dislike, but feeling crappy about myself won’t help eliminate those ideals either. Maybe I’ll gain more confidence and have the courage to speak out against these norms.’
So I did it.
But after the anesthesia wore off and the big, white cast compressed my new nose, I realized that what might make these beauty standards so impossible for women is that they’re more than just physical. If we have a big nose or belly rolls, we feel badly about our worth compared to prettier women. But if we get plastic surgery or throw up, we’re shallow and not naturally ‘beautiful.’ A classic damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We feel badly if our natural bodies don’t fit the norm but if we take effective steps to change them, then we’re shallow, weak, stupid and fake.
Currently I’m hiding away in my room because I have a cast covering my now shorter nose and blood coating my now higher nostrils. I look like I crawled out of a garbage disposal. It’s apparent I had plastic surgery. Which embarrasses me. But why? According to society, I’m doing the right thing. My nose was ‘wrong.’ Why am I not prouder that I fixed it? Why do I feel like a stupid, shallow conformist?
Harsh beauty standards are obviously expected of women. But, not so obviously, women who don’t meet these standards are expected to rise above them. To live with what they’re born with and develop other personality traits to feel confident about instead. And here’s the hardest part: those traits are supposed to be enough in a society that clearly values beauty more. When you think of perfection, a funny girl isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind.
Then the impossible part of these beauty standards isn’t that women are physically unable to become beautiful but only a select number are allowed to be beautiful. And those who aren’t should be able to find other, more ‘meaningful’ sources of self-confidence. These standards keep us from taking our happiness into our own hands. They force women to choose whether to be secure with their intelligence or their appearance. But the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Or at least, they shouldn’t be.