The Nose Knew What The Heart Has Finally Come to Understand

by Michelle Mielewski Baum

When I was twelve years old, I wanted a nose job. Up until that time, I had only admired my nose, its lack of bumps, its graceful lines. But then, a casual insult from a classmate made me reconsider. I looked with new eyes and saw that he was right: my nose was (gulp) big.

What did this mean? In reality not much, as I would find out later. But the way he had said it made me know that this did not bode well. The fact of my nose became a weak spot, something just waiting to be said whenever fights broke out. The trump card that I would never hold. The thing that mattered most. Because what else really did matter back then but not being ugly? Could I have come back with, "But I get all As! I have a pony!"? No way.

So while watching tv, I would press the top of my fist under my nose, trying to permanently change its angle. When commercials came on, I'd run to the bathroom to check out my new profile, only to see it fall back down to where God had originally put it.

My unease with my face continued through my teenage years, keeping me mostly to myself, staying closed to any possibility that someone would think I was beautiful. I can remember calling my mother from a pay phone at my high school, telling her that I needed plastic surgery. I remember crying myself to sleep.

I'm not sure what I thought would change in my life should my nose be made smaller. I had friends, I had boys who liked me, I had a roof over my head. What I didn't have was ease, the carefree life that I imagined every smallnose had: not worrying about camera angles, or about if people were sitting on your good side. Not waiting for someone to point out how much you didn't look like the girls in Seventeen magazine. It seemed like those girls, and the girls in my school who looked like them, had something essential that I would never have. I often felt like a cartoon that should be erased and drawn over. I was sure that I would never be truly happy.

When I went to college, I continued to feel this way. While other girls in my dorm put on makeup I reasoned to myself that that was something pretty girls did, not me. When they went out to bars, I assumed that I would end up alone at the bottom of my drink. I would force myself to go out occasionally and sometimes would catch someone's eye...but when this happened, I chalked it up to a rip in the space/time continuum, a cosmic mishap that would right itself soon enough.

But then I met the man who would be my husband. Bob was a miracle to my sense of my outward self. I remember when he first kissed my nose and offhandedly told me that he loved it. Of course, being the sort of person that I am, I thought he was just being kind. But as our relationship grew, I noticed that he very often would shower my nose with love, kissing it out of the blue. And something in me slowly started to soften. This genuine, guileless affection from a man was new to me and a little confusing. He truly didn't seem to know what I was talking about when I said, "I'm ugly." He would listen when I would continually resist his expressions of how beautiful he thought I was, but he kept on saying it. But more than that, he showed me. I would look up from a book and he'd be looking at me with love.

I still struggled with my feelings about my face, but it got less frequent. And the epiphany in my relationship with my nose finally happened about three years ago. I was sitting in our apartment, caught in a trap of self hate, getting up to look in the mirror to punish myself with "See? You look ridiculous." I was on the cusp of a decision to look into plastic surgery, contemplating my new face...when it hit me with something like shock: What would my having a different face mean to the people that love me? When Bob looked at me, what would he see? Would he miss the me I am now? And from that thought came these: it was my face that my parents looked at with joy when I was born; it was my face that was one of the first to welcome my cousins into the world, to show them the incredible love that they live in; it was my face that Bob looked into when he told me he loved me and asked me to marry him. It was with that realization that I knew, for the first time, that it was possible to look into my own eyes and see my face in the light of truth instead of through the artificial lights of dressing rooms and cruel classmates.

And from then on, though it took practice, I was able to look at my face and not see my nose. It was there, but it was just a part of my face, a face that people liked to see. And when I looked specifically at the middle of my face, at what I'd seen as the source of my pain, I even started to see the distinctiveness of it, see my ethnicity, my history. It actually looked different to me, through my now-different eyes.

And now, at 27, I can't remember the last time that I worried about my nose. It may be as my mom explained about my grandmother, from whom my profile comes: "When she was a teenager, she always planned on getting it fixed. But then life got in the way and she was too busy to think about it."

But I think it has more to do with love. It's more like the words that author Nikos Kazantzakis credits to St. Francis: "Deep down in the bowels of every man...there sleeps a horrible, unclean larva. Lean over and say to this larva: 'I love you!' and it shall sprout wings and become a butterfly." My family had always told me that I was beautiful, but in my mind, they had to say that, I belonged to them and deserved their protection. But my husband had chosen me, had seen in me the real beauty that I had let be hidden from my eyes. He had laid the foundation for my finally accepting the love that was waiting for me: most importantly from myself. Bob had looked at me, seen the self-hate that lived in me, leaned over and said, "I love you."

And my nose became a butterfly.

Michelle Mielewski Baum is married, working on becoming a mom, has a degree in English literature, and works as an editor. She and her nose live happily in New Hampshire with Bob, their two cats, and a pile of dirty dishes.

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© Copyright 1997 - Michelle Mielewski Baum. All rights reserved.