By Jessica Anya Blau
It started in fifth grade with Paul B. who reminded me of Charlie Brown -- a perfectly circular head, velvet hair, pale blue eyes. He darted around, never walking a straight line. "Jessica would be cute if she didn't have such a big nose," he told Kenny J. (who had sent me love notes in third grade), and Karen S. (who seemed fully grown at ten) and Rena B. (who was movie star beautiful but claimed she looked like a troll). And they all told me.
Following this report I spent hours in the bathroom mirror wondering if he was right. I examined my nose from every angle: straight on, up, down. With the mirrored medicine cabinet door open I was able to see my profile in the wall mirror. I knew, and still know, the differences between my left and right profiles. (In high school I decided that I'd never have dated as much as I did if I had lived in the UK. My left profile, I believed, was far superior to my right and kept those driving boys interested in me as I sat in the passenger seat.)
Sixth Grade: My best friend Julie T. was obsessed with the movie Funny Girl. She played the record every day after school and sang along while staring at Barbra Streisand's glowing face on the album cover.
"You look exactly like her!" Julie once said.
"How do I look like her?" I asked.
"You have the same nose!"
I didn't agree, but I recalled my mother saying that everyone respected Barbra Streisand because she didn't get a nose job. Was my nose like that? Was it so big that the choice not to get a nose job would seem respectable and brave? It sounded like deciding not to wear false teeth, or exposing your foggy, runny blind eye instead of putting on sunglasses.
After college, when I lived in the Bay Area, I was driving through Oakland on a perfect, glowingly sunny day. My windows were down and the wind was whipping my hair across my face. At a red light on a quiet street, a gorgeous black man in a red convertible stopped beside me. I admired his ropey, muscled arm that extended to the wheel, his smooth, clear skin, and his square, white teeth. I looked at him. He looked at me. I smiled. He smiled. I hoped he'd ask me for my number, or to pull over so we could chat, or maybe he'd even follow me until I stopped. And then the light changed. I paused before hitting the gas. He turned toward me and said, "See ya later, Big Nose!" I drove slowly and let him spin out of sight.
For years, I have confiscated photos of myself that were taken in profile and colored in my bump with a sharpie to see what I'd look like with a smaller nose (I look like someone who isn't me). I've shown these doctored photos to other people who often stare at me as if I'm presenting a picture of toe fungus. They claim not to get what I'm speaking of when I speak of my big nose. They are, obviously, polite people.
Once, at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in Tennessee, I entered the dining room alone and sat in the empty chair next to a nice looking older man. He was charming, funny, we laughed uproariously throughout the meal. At some point, I realized he was also famous in the writing and graduate school world.
After dinner, we took a walk down the road. Our conversation from the dinner table continued. In the middle of this, mid-sentence, he stopped, put his hand on my forearm and said, "My god! I hadn't seen what a big, beautiful nose you have!"
"You think my nose is big?" I asked.
"It wasn't apparent when we were looking straight at each other at the table, but here it is!"
"Here my big nose is?"
"Yes! And it's beautiful!"
I vowed to buy every single one of his books.
But I didn't begin to see my beak any differently until recently, when I found myself looking at my two daughters. The both have real, human noses, not exactly like mine, but quite similar. I have examined their faces, from every angle -- up, down, each profile -- as if I were 13 and looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. And always when I do this, I have the same thought: these girls are exquisitely perfect exactly as they are.
Lately, I've tried to look at myself as I look at my daughters. When the 11-year-old brain in my head starts whispering that Paul B. was right and I would be cuter if I had a smaller nose, I tell myself that this face should never be messed with. It is just right, lovely in its own strange way. I try to remember that it's only a nose, one small part of me. And like many things, it's not nearly as important as it seemed in fifth grade.
Jessica Anya Blau is the author of newly released Drinking Closer to Home, which has been called "a raging success" and "unrelentingly, sidesplittingly funny." Her first novel, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, was picked as a Best Summer Book by The Today Show, the New York Post, and New York Magazine. Jessica lives in Baltimore and teaches at Goucher College. Read her blog on Red Room.
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