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The Surreal Experience That Taught Me to Love the Nose I Used to Hate

Life has a funny way of teaching us to appreciate what we have.
Photo Credit: Stefany Alves

Photo Credit: Stefany Alves

Youre beautiful just the way you are.

We all hear these words as a child, but how many of us actually believe them?

It’s little wonder, when the same fashion magazines that tell us to embrace our imperfections simultaneously contain pages upon pages of ads featuring hopelessly airbrushed models and plastic surgery tips.

While it may be politically correct to pay lip service to platitudes about our inner beauty, our culture itself pushes in exactly the opposite direction. Media and advertising suggest we should airbrush or nip and tuck away the natural variations that stand between us and the “perfect” women we want to be.

I, certainly, am not exempt from this epidemic. For as long as I can remember, I have hated my nose. It’s too long and disproportionate to the rest of my face; I disliked the way it looked in pictures and wished for a different one.

But I just couldn’t do it. A few traumatic minutes spent watching an exposé on plastic surgeries gone wrong convinced me at an early age that getting it “fixed” wasn’t an option. I accepted my fate with resignation, occasionally wondering why the family’s genes had conspired against me in such a cruel fashion.

A Family’s Fate

On the whole I was proud of my family’s heritage, despite the fact that it was responsible for my nose. When offered the chance to walk in my ancestors’ footsteps and visit a foreign country where they had lived for many years, I eagerly agreed. The last day of my trip, I stopped by the national headquarters of a prominent youth organization—a place that my grandfather’s beloved uncle had helped found nearly seventy years earlier, prior to his tragic death in World War II.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find much. Perhaps a bored receptionist who would give me a vague nod of acknowledgement when I mentioned my ancestor’s name. No one in the family had been to the country in decades, and I figured the legacy was all but forgotten.

Imagine, then, my surprise when the receptionist’s eyes grew to the size of saucers, and he responded to my inquiry with a jubilant exclamation: “A descendant of the founder has returned to us!!!”

What followed can only be described as surreal.

I was escorted to meet the secretary-general, presented with archive after archive of historic pictures and memorabilia featuring my great-great-uncle, invited to remain for an upcoming commemoratory celebration as the guest of honor, and shown a portrait of my ancestor painted by a famous artist—worth more than a million dollars and usually kept locked in a safe. The secretary-general displayed it to me proudly and then surveyed my features for a moment before nodding with satisfaction.

“Ah . . . look! You have his nose!”

I pretended not to hear him and turned the conversation to the painting’s beautiful colors, figuring he was just trying to be polite by finding some connection between me and my distant relative.

A few minutes later, while we were in the library viewing some historic photos, I was distracted by the faint sound of rustling behind me. Turning around, I discovered that the entire room had filled with people. It seemed that as word quickly spread that a descendant of the founder’s family had returned, every member of the organization’s staff had dropped what he or she was doing to rush to the library—and was now watching me with an awestruck expression, waiting to shake my hand.

For a split second I froze. They must be mistaking me for a princess or something. . . . This can’t be happening. But as everyone looked at me expectantly, I remembered that I was there on behalf of my family and should avoid, to the extent possible, making a complete fool of myself. So, with as much grace as I could muster, I walked forward and began to greet each person in the crowd.

I tried to respond graciously to each greeting, attempting to grasp how I could be welcomed with such admiration for the sake of a man I had never met. As I worked my way through the group, however, I became aware of a vague whispering going through the room. With a little help from a nearby translator, I deciphered the words:

“Look at her nose . . .”

“You’re right! Look at that . . . she has his nose!”

“She really is related to him; you can tell! You can see it in her nose!”

Person after person, with joy shining in their eyes, insisted on bringing this fact to my attention.

“How wonderful—you have received the founder’s nose!”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face. All my life I have hated my nose . . . and now it turns out there’s actually a place where I’m admired for it. Even so, in the midst of such a crowd of well-wishers, what could I do but return their smiles? All I could muster was a “thank you.”

What’s Yours Is Better

Even now, ten years later, I’ll never forget the look of happiness on their faces when they discovered that I have my great-great-uncle’s nose.

In all honesty, I still can’t say that I like it—and perhaps I never will. In spite of myself, though, I’ve learned to love it. Sometimes when I’m getting ready to go out at night, I still catch myself frowning at it in the mirror, wishing it could be even just a little daintier, a little smaller. Then the memory of that Friday afternoon reminds me: Every feature on my face is a link to my history, a visible sign of the heritage passed on to me from those who have gone before me, whose blood runs through my veins—and whose good example I am called to imitate.

I suppose that, fashion magazines notwithstanding, I’ve finally given up on having the “perfect” body . . . or more accurately, I’ve decided that the one I have is even better. Every scar, wrinkle, and freckle on my body tells a story—of a happy sun-kissed vacation, a crisis navigated, or a brush with death survived. Maybe they’ll never land me on the cover of Vogue, but it is precisely my “flaws” that make me who I am.

Besides, if I ever start to doubt, all I have to do is remember that somewhere in the world, there is a small island nation where the locals are convinced that what I see as my ugliest feature is actually the most special one of all.