A Nose Away From Beautiful

Are you self-conscious about your nose? If so, what’s the best solution?

Posted Mar 15, 2017

David Levine photo, "Catchlights"/Flickr
Source: David Levine photo, "Catchlights"/Flickr

Besides its critical function in smell and breathing, the cartilaginous protrusion labeled nose has long been crucial in considerations of human beauty. And how could this not be so, when it sits in the very center of your face—literally “standing out” from other features. In fact, in both art and life, the curious aesthetics of the nose has for millennia been a subject of particular interest (see Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body, p. 360).

Ironically, the less prominent your nose, the better. That is to say, the so-deemed “perfect nose” is one that draws as little attention to itself as possible. As most cosmetic surgeons today agree, ideally a person’s eyes, cheeks, and lips are what should most draw an onlooker’s gaze. But if the nose happens to be oversized, or out of kilter with the rest of one’s face, another’s attention will instead center on one’s proboscis. And such a distraction is hardly favorable to their estimation of one’s appearance .

What’s so regrettable here is that no fewer than 14 types of noses have been identified (see Abraham Tamir, 2011). And in reality almost all of them—or their variants—fall short of being in perfect balance and harmony with the rest of the face. In a sense, such perfection, paradoxically, might best be seen as an aberration.

Scaachi Koul is one writer who, dolefully, takes up this worrisome subject. And her excellent overview focuses (as does most of the popular literature) specifically on women’s noses:

No matter where we are, or who we think we are, the beauty standards for noses are still remarkably narrow. . . . No wonder we’re still trying to hide our noses. . . . Few cultures like or accept a [disproportionately] large nose. No one wants a crooked one. Anything too wide, too flared is easily dismissed as unattractive. . . . This is true for nearly anyone, but doubly true for women, for whom anything outsized or out of the ordinary is examined and picked apart. In fact, the best nose, for women, is one you barely notice at all. . . . [They’re] frankly, relatively nondescript [or, it might be added, non-ethnic]. (“When Will the Nose Have Its Beauty Moment?”, BuzzFeedNews, July 11, 2016.)

What this characterization hints at is that it’s far easier to have a nose that, well, leaves something to be desired than to have been endowed with one that harmonizes beautifully with one’s other facial features. For, realistically, what are the odds that your nose wouldn’t have some sort of bump in it, be slightly tilted, hooked, elongated or overly prominent, bulbous, snubbed, eagle-like or hawkish . . . or even one that juts out so conspicuously that it might be as easily caricatured as was Richard Nixon’s?

Unquestionably, on this oh-so-imperfect planet, imperfect noses have—and will—prevail. And that’s why it’s so sad that a great number of us remain self-conscious about what we can’t but adversely regard as our “blemished beaks,” particularly as seen in profile (and curses on that callous individual who invented the mirror in the first place!). It’s fascinating that the perfect feminine nose has actually been labeled “celestial,” as in heavenly—or, better, not of this earth.

And certain ethnicities seem especially disadvantaged by their nasal structures. So, for example, Koul, citing Natalie Bullock Brown, currently working on a documentary relating to how Western ideals of beauty affect black women, quotes her as follows:

The more Africanized a black woman’s features are, the less likely . . . she’s going to be considered beautiful or attractive. . . . A small nose, just like a small body frame, and pouty—even though they’re full—lips, is supposed to be dainty, and it completely plays into the skewed idea of what it means to be feminine.

In several online comment sections devoted to noses, I ran into another grave disservice that—young people in particular, whose noses deviate significantly from community norms— must frequently contend with: namely, verbal teasing and bullying. In the passage below, consider the psychological harm that even apparently “innocent” remarks from children can have on one’s self-image:

Hump Nose/Wikipedia Commons
Source: Hump Nose/Wikipedia Commons

In fifth grade, while in band class, a fourth grader sitting beside me said, “Wow your nose[’s] shadow makes you look like a witch, but without the wart.” . . . This is a comment I’ve tried letting go [of], but fail[ed]. It never helped that the rest of [my] family . . . does not share the same Roman nose I do. In my preteen years, I was constantly told in a mocking tone not to date a guy with a big nose because if we kissed we might poke each other’s eyes out. . . . My self-perceived imperfect nose haunted me (excerpted from “Facebook Conversations” following Koul’s article listed above).

Plus, although it’s generally agreed that beauty is subjective, it’s really not that subjective. Ruth Graham, in her piece "Who Will Fight the Beauty Bias?" (Boston Globe, 08/23/2013), wryly observes:

As subjective as “beauty” sounds, human beings agree to a remarkable degree on who is attractive and who is not. Beauty, as it turns out, is not in the eye of the beholder. Generally, it means feminine features for women, like large eyes and a round face, and masculine features for men, like a square jaw. Even newborn infants have been shown to prefer gazing at faces adults agree are attractive.

And this author goes on to cite Connor Principe, a psychology professor at Pacific University, who sees these preferences as holding “both within and across cultures, even those presumed to have radically different standards of beauty.”

Perhaps what’s most unfortunate in all this is that research has repeatedly demonstrated that attractive people—and as much as anything else, it’s their noses that seem to determine this favorable verdict—are “beatified” with the halo effect. Because of this, they don’t simply earn higher salaries than their more average-looking cohorts, or are more successful in applying for bank loans, or less likely to have a jury convict them of an alleged crime. They’re typically perceived as morally superior as well (which research has shown just isn’t true).

An earlier post of mine, “Is There Something Unethical About Beauty?”, touches on this provocative subject. And as Graham further reports, we’re apt to see attractive people as “healthier, friendlier, more intelligent, and more competent than the rest of us,” and (get this) “even identical twins judge each other by [their] relative beauty,” suggesting that even minute appearance discrepancies between faces can have a major effect on our perceptions.

Returning to Scaachi Koul’s seminal article on the dominant contemporary view of noses, this journalist compellingly points out that many aspects of the female form are undergoing positive revision . . . except, that is, for the nose. In her own words:

Nearly every vaguely ethnic marker of beauty has gone through an online moment of glory and adoration. . . . The body positivity movement is maybe the most heartening version of self-acceptance, where fat women—or, frankly, women of any shape tired of being told there’s something wrong with them—are celebrating their bodies. But the nose, or at least those of us with big, wide, crooked noses that have never been glorified, or fetishized, or romanticized, have yet to find a similar awakening [emphasis added]. The nose is still considered a flaw in countless communities, a problem that needs to be fixed by breaking and reshaping. And the nose, regardless of where you are in the world, almost always needs to be slender, refined, and small. In 2015 . . . more than 200,000 “nose reshapings” were performed . . . and 76% of those surgeries were on women.

So what’s a person in such circumstances to do? Here are the three main options:

(1) Bite the bullet and, if you can afford it, look into what you might change, or enhance, through rhinoplasty. Some discussants on the internet were thrilled that they decided to undergo the surgery, ending up with a nose they were much happier with. They claimed that the procedure helped them be less self-conscious and build their self-confidence. Moreover, it didn’t take all that long for them to get used to the “newness” of their improved appearance. (And to get a better idea of what rhinoplasty can potentially do for your attractiveness, take a look at these—presumably, untouched—online before-and-after photos.)

(2) Stick with your "birth nose" and, however begrudgingly, make your peace with it. Others avoided the option of cosmetic surgery for fear that the end result might be disappointing, or that their looks could be changed in a way that would make it impossible for them to recognize themselves. For better or worse, they’d be sacrificing something core to their identity. Others, admitting they were “scaredy-cats,” were simply too frightened to go under the knife, period.

(3) Learn to gradually, and graciously, not only accept but affirm the nose you inherited—even celebrating the fact that it “bonds” you all the more to your family. Regardless of whether at some point they may seriously have considered elective nose surgery, some discussants came to the conclusion that it was best to cultivate a certain pride in their “distinctive” appearance. Moreover, they just couldn’t feel comfortable about artificially erasing their ethnicity.

Obviously, whatever choice you might make must, personally, feel right, since this isn’t a decision anyone else can make for you. And doubtless, whichever alternative is selected will carry its own risks . . . and rewards.

I’ll close this piece with a quote from a woman who, though she herself decided not to get her nose cosmetically enhanced, is yet sympathetic to those who would. Her simple words may lack sophistication but nonetheless reflect a humanity eminently worth noting. For they speak to the unconditional self-acceptance that all of us would do well to strive toward:

CCO Public Domain/on Pixabay
Source: CCO Public Domain/on Pixabay

I have been told my entire life that my nose is too big. One girl even said it “needs to be fixed.” [But] it is the . . . nose I was born with. . . . My nose is mine and no one else’s. Anyone who doesn’t like their nose is free to change it, and should never be criticized for it. . . . If changing your nose makes you feel better, then do it if you can, but I also hope you’ll remember that you are beautiful even if you don’t think your nose is perfect, because it is yours. I wish all people could accept that they are beautiful because they’re human (excerpted from “Facebook Conversations,” cited earlier).

Okay, enough said. . . .

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© 2017 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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