When I was 11, I would’ve sold my soul for a nose job.
There isn’t anything particularly hideous about my nose. Its bridge rises higher than most Asian noses, forming a little bump before declining into a bulbous, downward-sloping tip. Its round shape even allows me to move the cartilage around when I’m bored.
It is, by all means, a fine nose and a competent smelling device. I just absolutely hated it.
This loathing of my nose began when I first watched “Pride and Prejudice” circa 2005. My friend and I were infatuated with the film, especially with the scenes of actress Keira Knightley strolling through the rolling English hills. In one scene, Knightley’s facial profile takes up the whole frame. The shot spends at least a minute highlighting the perfect, unbroken line from the space between her eyebrows to her nose’s sharp, L-shaped tip.
I became obsessed.
I was enthralled, inexplicably confounded by how someone could possess a nose with such defined lines, a nose so objectively flawless. I started noticing these noses everywhere. I picked them off of models in Victoria’s Secret ads, found them in the late-night TV I used to watch with my mother — and did everything in my power to get one for myself.
Afternoons were spent pinching clothespins around my nose’s bulbous tip. Mornings were passed squeezing it in the bathroom mirror to be less wide, more upturned. I Googled how to get a rhinoplasty. I prayed for a deviated septum.
People tried to tell me otherwise.
My mother reassured me my nose was beautiful. My boyfriends called it cute. My friends, hair stylist and ballet instructor all told me it was fine, just fine. I eventually grew into my nose — maybe even learned to love it — and stopped wishing for a deviated septum.
Yet, near the end of my teenage years, I realized why I’d hated it so much. My problem with my nose hadn’t been that it wasn’t fine.
It was that it wasn’t white.
Growing up in America — or anywhere that values eurocentric beauty ideals, for that matter — is hard as a person of color. The constant barrage of white culture in mainstream media gave me the impression that the only people who were beautiful were ones who didn’t look like me. In crucially formative years of adolescence, how can you learn to love yourself when your own appearance is missing from the people you idolize?
Most of my favorite musicians from middle school — say, Arcade Fire or Radiohead — are white. The TV shows I watched — such as “Gilmore Girls” and “Friends” — feature all-white casts. My favorite American movie, “Forrest Gump,” has white stars.
Whiteness is not just everywhere. It’s sometimes all we have access to.
The few times I did see Asian women in the media were disheartening. They often appeared as nerds, FOBs or oversexualized geishas. They were rarely depicted as beautiful in a traditional sense and were never lauded the way white actresses are, such as Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johansson.
The norm was inculcated in me that as an Asian woman — as a woman of color — I was not beautiful. If I somehow were to be, it was because I defied my stereotype, sometimes because of fetishization of my “exotic” qualities.
For years, many of my friends consoled me, reassuring me I was pretty “for an Asian.” They never understood that what frustrated me most was that my beauty, as a person of color, had to be qualified.
Now, however, it feels like things are changing.
Companies push for more diverse appearances in advertising campaigns. Models of varying ethnic descents walk top runways. Movies, musicals and sitcoms look for more people of color to participate. Look at the variegated cast dominating Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” or the non-white casting call of “Hamilton.” See Zac Posen casting, almost exclusively, models of color or Kanye West’s diverse lineup at his Yeezy Season 3 kick off at New York Fashion Week.
There’s so much more conversation about the depiction of race in American media and how it needs to change — not the people of color who don’t fall between its white lines. Physical self-love and acceptance of one’s appearance, as a person of color or otherwise, has been refreshingly emphasized. I can’t say I’m not grateful for the change.
A few weeks back, I saw a nose doctor about a sinus infection. He prescribed me antibiotics, as expected. Then, out of nowhere, he also diagnosed me with a deviated septum. He offered me the option of a surgery which could include rhinoplasty.
I mulled it over for a hot second but ultimately declined.
I quite like my nose these days. There’s not a thing about it I want to change.
Contact Eda Yu at[email protected].