By Z Zoccolante
The doctor holds his finger against the bridge of my nose, covering the small bump. In the mirror, my profile looms. Little fairies jump on a trampoline in my belly. Black Sharpie lines conjoin in a fractured map along my nose, outlining the nose I’ve always wanted. I am sixteen and time spills before me like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The promise of pretty dangles before me: a choice, a nose job.
As a child, I spent hours in the elongated mirror of the bathroom, crafting shampoo commercials, holding the bottle in view, throwing my hair over my shoulder with a sliding smile. I’d memorize a character’s dialogue from a new film and recite it for the invisible cameras at odd angles around my face. In a blind study, symmetry is what we find beautiful, and I was not symmetrical. My nose stuck out, the bump on its bridge protruding into the world, jarring my profile.
Growing up in Hawaii, my best friends were Asian, Hawaiian, or Hapa. I was Italian with blond hair, jet-black eyebrows, and a prominent nose. If I was going to model, I needed to be perfect. If I was going to be an actress, I sought perfection in the camera’s eye.
I’m not sure why my mom agreed to take me to the consultation with the surgeon. Perhaps she knew I wouldn’t go through with breaking and reshaping my nose in the end. She offered a simple appeasing to make me think I’d been at liberty to choose. In the doctor’s office, I stared into the mirror, wanting to feel elation, but feeling let down instead.
The doctor proposed taking away the small lump on the bridge of my nose. I also wanted him to take away some length, which would alter the width as well. As he talked, the fairies swirled in my belly, stirring the pot.
This was the moment I’d been waiting for. For the doctor to assuage all my fears and tell me that he could make my nose small, like a fairy, and so pretty. What I got was more questions and a stomach filled with dread. There was no way to say with certainty what I would look like afterwards. I imagined the deflating moment if I took off the bandages and didn’t like what I saw. I imagined the puncture to my heart, the terror of knowing I had done this to myself and I would live with it forever.
We often prefer to stay with the monsters we know than to venture out in search of new ones. There’s always the fear that the new monsters will be much worse and we will wish we hadn’t begun the journey. We all fear the unknown.
That night, I held my finger against the bridge of my nose, hiding the bump from view. I squeezed at the sides, trying to gauge what I might look like, and if I’d be someone I’d want to see. I thought about the girl from Dirty Dancing. Her nose wasn’t perfect, but it was hers. When I saw her on TV, during a guest role, I didn’t recognize her. She’d had a nose job. The larger nose I remembered, on the innocent girl falling in love with Patrick Swayze, had been replaced by a tiny delicate one. Somehow, in that simple moment, she’d become less interesting to me, because one of her unique features now mimicked so many other women’s perfect little noses.
I remember the exact feeling, how a thought slipped through the cracks. “How sad she couldn’t like herself as is.” As is. How many times have I told myself that I would be kinder to myself, more loving, happier, finally relax, when…
…when the lump disappeared from my nose, when I weighed X, when I was skinny, when my cellulite went away, when I got X award, when I became someone important, when I could afford X, when I traveled to X, when I could fit in these pants, when, when, when… And then I’d be happy.
The stark reality is that all we have is now. The past no longer exists except in our own minds. The future is determined by what we do today. Are we able to love ourselves right now, as is?
Even at sixteen, I had the odd realization that if I couldn’t love the bump on my nose, or at least come to a peaceful friendship with it, then I had no chance of surviving my life, of surviving the eating disorder that had already taken hold, that constantly pointed out all my physical flaws.
Where would it end? Would I be able to look in the mirror and still see myself, or would I see the outer perfection I’d forced to be true? What if, after alterations, I still didn’t like myself?
I didn’t get the nose job, but years later I worked in the spa industry. On a weekly basis, I’d have clients asking for my thoughts on some type of injection or plastic surgery. I fully support people doing what they feel is best for them, even if that means alterations. However, I would repeat the same questions time and again. “What is your main reason for wanting to get X? What will X offer you? Are you comfortable with the risks?”
At the end of the line of questions lies the uncomfortable reality: changing our outer appearance doesn’t necessarily change how we feel inside. If we cannot love ourselves as is, what hope do we have for loving ourselves at all?
I don’t know how my life might have been different if I chose to get a fairy nose. In the end, I doubt all the members of my family would have allowed it. Still, I’m happy with my choice to keep the nose. This is me.
I’ve wasted years of my life focusing on the “flaws” of my body. When I’d see a girl flaunt by with a tiny nose and no hips, my eyes would follow, longing for those smaller traits. But what did I long for? To look like someone who wasn’t me? If we all have the same “perfect” nose, how unique would I be?
I’ve chosen not to alter myself, because I was once easily enticed by the hope of perfection. For me, and only for me, I find strength in loving myself as is—the parts I adore and the parts I have made friendly peace with.
Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I catch my profile and I smile. Yes, there I am, the striking image of a dark fairytale queen. I am enough, with all of my beautiful “flaws,” because I am me: unique me, and this nose… is mine.