Rather than losing the legacy of her nose to a cosmetic nose, Nancy Uddin practices self-love and understanding
A two-minute mirror rule was effectively enforced for most of my childhood — as often as possible, I allotted myself a gracious two minutes for mirror usage to minimise seeing myself. Mirrors reminded me that frizz control was beyond me, my dark complexion scolded me to stay out of the sun, and my hooked brown nose dominated my entire face.
By ignoring brown racialised noses, the mainstream beauty industry reduces South Asians as simply “other,” revoking the complexity to a cultured identity. Many of us develop self-hatred for our roots due to the socialised disgust for anything that is not white. We predominately see white women, “respectable” light-skinned black women, and everyone else that is a brand of white-passing in the media. Notable Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, ranked as one of the most beautiful women on earth, according to Vogue, has brown hair, blue-green eyes, and a button-like nose. Bollywood is susceptible to showcasing a white-refined type of beauty, and more so implicitly propelling the mass skin bleaching and body surveilling culture.
Many South Asian people have long noses that depress at the tip. Like everyone on my father’s side, my harshly sloped nose blatantly screams my Bengali roots. These noses have inexplicable ancestral ties as I share the same side profile as the prominent Bengali writer Sarat Chandra, many of the freedom fighters from the Bangladesh Liberation War, and my deceased grandmother. This nose has a story about my bloodline, my history, and even where I envision going. The way it intensely protrudes, the slant of the outline, the way the tip is acutely triangular has meaning beyond aesthetics.
"I adapted this face from the keen awareness that the tip of my nose significantly languishes more from smiling"
Yet, if we browse through my childhood photos, my small lethargic face stares back, smileless. I adapted this face from the keen awareness that the tip of my nose significantly languishes more from smiling - I did not want to make myself any uglier than I already appeared.
During college, I began learning about my heritage. I grasped that an inverse relationship between colonisation and self-love for people of colour prevailed. I hyperanalysed my community’s self-hatred: my grandmother’s interchangeable usage of the Bengali word shada (literally translates to white) with beautiful; my circle of brown girlfriends’ (including myself) attempts to straighten hair since middle school; and my brother’s refusenik attitude towards wearing South Asian garments in fear of being “caught” by his American friends.
Once I began acknowledging this, I began remedying my spirit. I surrounded myself with radical women of colour and really began witnessing them, falling in love with them, and establishing a sense of gravity from their very being. The softness from the kinship people of colour exclusively shared provided me with a sense of belonging and identity. The alchemy of thick curly hair, the fervour from the sun’s kiss on dark skin tones, and the sound of jingle bells from the intricately embroidered South Asian dresses finally struck me with admiration.
"In the privacy of my own company in the bathroom of the workshop, I pressed my finger to the tip of my nose and pushed it upwards"
Media’s gradual approval towards so many of my brown features including, my brown skin, thick eyebrows, and long neck also heightened my self-acceptance. Although the internet may be notorious for cultivating insecurities amongst women, it also rides the wave of the body positive movement that recognises women’s empowerment with hashtags such as #BlackGirlMagic, #PraisetheAsian, and #effyourbeautystandards.
Well equipped with intersectional feminist thought, I attended workshops and events where I advocated for women of colour’s right to self-love. Self-love is essential for women of colour because it resists the notion that labels white beauty standards as the only ideal. By unapologetically wearing a bindi, a cherished South Asian adornment, I am acknowledging there is value in my culture.
Still, in the privacy of my own company in the bathroom of the workshop, I pressed my finger to the tip of my nose and pushed it upwards. My nose suddenly appeared petite and pointed upward, like Kylie Jenner, Ariana Grande, and Gigi Hadid. I shamefully felt more beautiful for 10 seconds and then I dropped my hands from my face, destroying my fantasy. I sighed and exited.
My openness towards my complicated feelings about my appearance is a result of my honest processing: bell hooks writes that “Choosing to be honest is the first step in the process of love. There is no practitioner of love who deceives. Once the choice has been made to be honest, then the next step on love's path is communication.” Having self-awareness is the first step towards growth. Looking inwards and identifying factors that I want to shift compels me to live a fuller life— a life closer to total self-love.
"In order to feel inspired, we need to see skin tones that reflect us, hair that is us, and large noses that are remorseless and beautiful"
I admit that I feel guilty for resenting my nose because there is pressure to practice the utmost self-love in the feminist community. On the other side, there is pressure to be in close proximity to whiteness / “beauty.” It seems like there is no winning for women of colour – just a lot of nuance. In order to unpack the cultural contradiction and volatile atmosphere between generations of South Asians, we need to accept nuance.
I reject practising a mechanical version of self-love for the gaze of others and I certainly desist losing the legacy of my nose to a cosmetic nose job. I choose to love and understand love at my own pace. My loving is evolving and it organically manifests while I simultaneously unlearn that my beauty is either a trend, fetish, or simply undesirable.
Along with South Asians, racialised noses exist within other ethnicities as well. Many people from the Middle East and/or Jewish diaspora are stereotyped for their noses and even depicted as evil or “oriental” to promote anti-semitic or anti-Arab propaganda. Wide flared noses that are mostly associated with black folks are also rarer in mainstream media. My childhood initially was deprived of the representation of women of colour until I was introduced to Destiny’s Child. I was entranced by their talent and beauty, for the first time witnessing various shades of black. Representation matters because it is the route to normalising and empowering marginalised identities. What we consume online shapes the way we view ourselves; in order to feel inspired, we need to see skin tones that reflect us, hair that is us, and large noses that are remorseless and beautiful. On a macro level, mass media and social media need to feature and uplift all type of noses to normalise the diverse reality of noses.
I subscribe to committing to the self-love process on my own terms. Although the guilt associated with disliking my nose prevails some days, I am habitually taking selfies, affirming myself in front of a mirror, and selectively engrossing myself in women of colour’s art. Channelling some big nose energy, I archive some eccentric noses on Pinterest and Instagram and fiercely smile unafraid for my foreseeably beloved nose.