Tuesday, February 05, 2008

On The Nose

My daughter is at a tweeny age when she is thinking more about her appearance than she did when she was younger. Her friends are also quite self-conscious about issues of fashion, weight, and height. So far, she seems to have a good perspective on these issues, and is willing to talk about them with me.

I hope she holds on to that perspective and her sense of confidence, and that these will also extend to how she feels about her intellectual and social capabilities. It seems like there are so many ways that girls (and women) can lose confidence in themselves.

Most recently, my daughter has become worried that her nose is too big. She doesn't seem too anxious about it, but she wishes her nose were smaller. I think she's beautiful, inside and out, but I'm just her mom.. In any case, the nose situation reminded me of something that happened to me when I was 13, a bit older than my daughter is now.

When I was 13 years old, I went to a family party. An ancient relative was turning an ancient age, and the entire extended family had gathered for a dinner party. Sometime during the evening, one of my aunts sought me out and pulled me aside for a quiet chat.

Aunt: You're probably thinking a lot about plastic surgery these days.

Me: What?

Aunt: But your nose really isn't that bad.

Me: What?

Aunt: It's really not as bad as you probably think it is.

Me: What?
[Note: My complete lack of articulateness was a function of my age and the fact that I had no idea what my aunt was talking about. I felt my nose, testing for injuries.]

Aunt: I wanted to tell you that I think you should wait before having plastic surgery. Some day you may like having such a distinctive nose.

Me: What?

Well, that set me up nicely for spending my teenage years feeling self-conscious about my nose, a part of my face to which I had never previously given much thought.

My nose is neither particularly large nor particularly small (and no, I have not had plastic surgery). No one to whom I am genetically related has a large nose. My nose is, however, not as petite as the typical FSP Family Nose, and there is a slight bump from when I got hit by a flying baseball bat during a Little League game. Despite my lack of nose perfection, I am at peace with having a somewhat distinctive but nevertheless un-huge nose.

But now my daughter is worried about her nose. We recently went to a museum together and looked at the noses of women portrayed in classical statues and paintings. We saw many impressive noses, and we agreed that we'd rather have an interesting face (+ distinctive nose) than a 'perfect' face (+ little nose).

My wish for my daughter is that she not worry too much about her nose (or anything else about her appearance), that she like how she looks (however she looks), and that she not spend any time alone with her great-aunt.


hypoglycemiagirl said...

It's not fun thinking about haow little it took, just a comment or a joke from a class mate, for me to spend years in agony about some little physical flaw that in the end is just cute and characteristic. What a waste of time and energy!

Vodalus said...

I think this is yet more evidence that your life is a bit stranger than most. I also think that I would enjoy watching the movie made from it.

Ole Phat Stu said...

It's not her appearance that matters in life,
It's what she nose ;-)

Cynthia said...

When I was 13 my brother, sister and I all had our ears "pinned back" (bilateral otoplasty), about which we were all ecstatic. (My brother's nickname in grade school was Dumbo.) But shortly afterwards my parents also offered to pay for electrolysis to neaten up my hairline. My reaction was just like yours: "What? What? What?" Who ever thinks about their hairline? It was really out of the blue, and it made me wonder what else people might think needed "fixing."

Anonymous said...

The museum thing is a brilliant idea. Good for other body-image problems too, particularly the classical and renaissance sculpture. Seeing how it's changed over time helps put the fashion aspect of beauty in perspective.
I know I always felt lumpish and ugly until I saw a statue of Aphrodite with exactly my measurements.

James said...

When I was around that age, I read a bit of some advice book for young people. At some point they talked about how you should be happy with what you have and not worry if, say, your elbows are too pointy. Looking back, it's clear that they had to invent pointy elbows because anything that actually exists (dark hair, light hair, medium pigmented hair, ...) would cause lots of poor young people to worry about whether they were too whatever. But after I read that, I spent lots of time worrying about whether my elbows were too pointy!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I love the story of you and your relative. My own "flaw" is that I have typically Irish/English coloring: bright red patches on my cheeks and sometimes chin that stand out distinctly from my otherwise pale (if freckled) skin tone. At one point, when in to have a facial mole excised, the surgeon said, "You know, just so you know, there's really nothing we can do about your rosacea." My what?!? Yes, apparently I have a condition, when what I thought I had was a face.


Hope your daughter bears up and comes out the other side of adolescence mostly intact.

Anonymous said...

Weird. I keep wondering if I could tell that your relatives were weird if I encountered them in an unrelated place (i.e. unrelated to you) :-).

Yes, best wishes for your daughter coming through intact. Mine is much younger, but I am not looking forward to navigating through adolescence with her.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is two. I threw out the scale when I saw her weighing herself every morning, just like mom. Ouch.
I have somewhat of a weigh obsession, but I didn't think too much of it until I realized that I do not want to pass it on to her. Luckily, she inherited my hubby's skinny genes :-)

Principle Investigator said...

I too have a "distinctive" nose that does not resemble that of anyone else in my immediate family. When I was babysitting as a tween, one of my adorable charges decided that it would be really funny to address me as "Pinocchio." My parents also forced me to take modeling classes for a while in the hopes of giving me more poise, and the teacher used to remark on what an "exotic" face I had. It took many years and several relationships before I was able to accept my face as "beautiful in an unusual way" rather than the Seinfeld definition of "exotic," i.e., ugly.

Anonymous said...

Dear FSP: This is not a comment about your daughter's nose, or yours, which I'm sure is lovely, but a general question. I'm enjoying reading your blog and getting a sense of your work/life balance, particularly that you have one.

How many hours a week do you think you work, on average?

--Soon-to-be Female Science Postdoc

Ms.PhD said...

Oh, I sooo identify with this post. My family is like yours, except that all of us have a very distinctive trait in common.

I never wanted plastic surgery, although certain relatives intimated that I should.

Only one relative that I know of had surgery, and had a miserable time in recovery.

In the end there were problems that sort of made the whole thing moot, and made me even more glad that I never did it.

Appearance is a scary thing for kids to deal with - Southpark just ran a really funny episode where the girls rank the boys in order of who is the cutest. If you haven't seen it, the kid named Eric Cartman is always called 'fatass.' In the middle of this episode, Eric is gone for a while, so the kids elect the next fattest kid (who isn't remotely fat at all) and start calling him 'fatass.' Just to fill the void.

Point being, insecure kids will always find somebody to pick on, even if they have to come up with a ridiculous excuse.

Let me amend that. It's true for insecure adults, too.

Best if you can deal with it in a healthy way and help your daughter do that, too. Hooray for both of you!

EcoGeoFemme said...

I have a bump too! I used to hate it, but now I don't care. I also used to hate my hair, my small stature, and other things but now I realize I'm healthy and capable and it could be much worse!

Anonymous said...

I have a big nose-- just like the rest of the family, except for my mom. Somehow, though, I was expected to come out fine...
Anyhow, my parents used to joke when I was little that they were setting up a nose-job fund rather than a college fund. When i reminded them recently, they said I got married anyways, nose and all, so there's no point...
BTW they did pay for college

ScienceGirl said...

Adolescence was tough on me, so I hope you blog about how you are helping your daughter get through it, just in case I have a daughter some day. Love the museum idea - sounds like you are a great help to your tween!

BeBe said...

Oh my gosh, cynthia, that is the funniest thing in the world. REALLY, WHO THINKS ABOUT THEIR HAIRLINE?? I'll have to go look at mine in the mirror. Aren't they all the same??

Charlotte said...

I'm glad your daughter has good self esteem...when I was your daughter's age (if I'm guessing her age correctly), my self esteem had pretty much been destroyed and I went through my teen years with a very low view of myself. I hope she holds onto her self confidence.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, my best friend was (as she sometimes did) worrying about the size of her nose, which is admittedly large. Apparently, I told her that in my opinion it made her "less pretty but more beautiful." Many years later, she remembers it as the nicest thing I ever said to her (perhaps because it's true). Try it on your daughter?

batgirl said...

Your nose story reminds me of my grandmother's reaction to my piercing my nose. She looked at me, sighed, and said "You used to be so pretty." Of course, that was a self-induced and easily reversable "flaw", but that was still pretty harsh.

Ms.PhD said...


I know several 'pretty' girls who got their nose pierced for precisely that reason. They wanted to be interesting, different, and as per another commenter, beautiful, rather than typically pretty.
Isn't that why you did it?

Anonymous said...

my mom did that to all her girls (3). My middle sister, who is a true classic beauty, has always been self-conscious about her nose, to the point that she only takes pictures at one particular angle. My youngest sister, more plain than the other one, has had a trauma about the girth of her waist, even during times when she is underweight (women in my family tend to have small waists, even when chubby, but she doesn't). For me it was my cheeks. I got all sorts of advice on how to minimize my cheeks by wearing my hear this or that way. Eventually I found out people actually think that prominent high cheekbones are desirable, but I was self-conscious about them until then. I was also overweight, and at some point my mom said, once I declared as a tween that I was through with dieting, that the good thing about being "thick" is that I could be sure boys would not be attracted to me for my body (oh, how wrong she was!).

To this day I can't understand what made her put those ideas in us, after she had lived with a big-nose trauma throughout her life.

I just hope I can avoid passing it on to my children.

The History Enthusiast said...

I had a similar experience when I was around 15 or 16. An acquaintance of my parents came over to our house one day with a big, expensive acne kit. She said, "I don't want to make you self-conscious or anything, but I saw this on the Home Shopping Network, and I thought you might want to try it. It will hopefully help with your breakouts."

I was TOTALLY MORTIFIED. I definitely had acne, but it wasn't that truly terrible kind that leaves big scars. Ever since then I have been really self-conscious about zits, even more so than the normal person. I still get one or two of them now--at age 26--and I still feel like that 15-year old version of me. I know she was trying to be nice, but the last thing I needed was to be reminded that I had very noticeable acne.

Oh, and I also have a distinctive nose. Sometimes I like it, but other times I don't. I wouldn't ever get plastic surgery though, because in the end...it's still my nose.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I've been feeling really insecure lately since this guy I liked wasn't interested. This helped. I am mixed white and Indian.