I have a big nose. It’s the kind of nose that makes people use words like “character,” or “ethnic” when they talk about my face. Clearly, they think I must be "ethnic" to have a schnoz. In all fairness, I am sort of ethnic, but I wasn’t born with an especially big nose — it’s the result of a variety of nose breaks during my adolescent years that never healed properly. So that ski-slope effect at the top was never meant to be there.
By about 16, my nose had set in its final resting place and became a topic of discussion. I remember going to my friend Maria’s house for dinner one night when her Greek mom said, “Oh Maria, I’m so happy you brought a Greek friend home!”
“Mrs. Christos, I’m not really Greek … ” I said quietly.
“Are you sure? Look at that face, my mother has the same nose!”
I didn’t say much after that. From that moment on, I decided to thank my various soccer injuries for introducing me to homemade feta cheese.
Not long after that, I remember a particularly handsome guy from my small town asking me over for Sunday dinner. His mom would be SO happy if he brought home a nice Italian girl. I asked him politely if the same would go for a nice Jewish girl and he laughed, “Wow, I guess we look pretty similar then, huh?”
And it goes without saying that the Jewish population has readily claimed me as one of their own. I have enjoyed, and most certainly reaped the benefits of, crossing a variety of ethnic borders over the years thanks to my nose shape. I’ve been mistaken for everything from Italian to Armenian, Georgian to Greek, Puerto Rican to your local Jewish girl next door. More than that, it’s taught me what it’s like to have your face change and grow to love it. I think it was an early emotional gift.
I know that sounds weird. Why would a repeatedly broken nose result in confidence instead of rhinoplasty? Well, at 17 my mother actually took me to see a plastic surgeon to consider getting a nose job. Somewhere in the back of her head (she didn’t say it, but I knew she was thinking it), she wanted me to be as conventionally pretty as my genetics could afford. She probably felt like she gave me a pretty great nose and circumstance took that away. So, why not fix it? Truthfully, I’m not against that route, but in my case I had watched my nose transform from completely average to a literal big deal during my delicate, formative years. I had survived some teasing, a lot of blue-purple bruising and even figured out how to do a variety of eye makeup looks that made my also-big eyes the focus of my face.
My nose had become a badge of honor only I could recognize. I felt like it was an open pass to the UN of facial acceptance. It taught me early-on to not really care what other people think of my face or any other aspect of my physical body. It reminds me that the big picture, my happiness, depends on my ability to focus on the good instead of picking myself apart for the (supposedly) bad. I like my teeth and my smile. I like my hair. My legs are still athletic from all those years of training on the field — am I going to let a more obvious nose get me down? No. And besides, there’s no guarantee that the "after" result would've looked much better.
By 24, I had become a mom. I had a sweet, perfect little boy. Three years later, I was pregnant again with a little girl who is the product of a totally Jewish me and a very Greek, Italian and Moroccan husband. In other words, I knew my daughter had the genetic makings for a virtual schnoz-apalooza and I was prouder than ever to have kept my nose intact. If by some chance she was born with a big nose, well, I’d remind her that I did well with mine: I made new friends, graced magazine pages and ad campaigns and even became a regular on morning TV. My nose simply became a signature accessory, like a statement necklace or brightly colored lipstick.
While my nearly 3-year-old daughter was born with a teensy-weensy nose that looks nothing like mine (we can thank her paternal grandmother for that), I know that one day she will be insecure about something on her face or body. I don’t know what, but I do hope she’ll think of the big nose I wear on my face every single day and draw the strength and pride from it that I do.