Nearly a decade after graduation, there’s one high school memory that I return to again and again when I think about loving myself. Classes were done for the day; a few of my friends and I were sitting on the brick front steps of our school, doodling on our Converse and rolling up our uniform skirts to make them shorter, in case there were cute boys afoot when our parents picked us up and took us to Starbucks.
“Boobs,” one friend said. “Definitely Boobs.”
On cue, the next girl in our clique blurted, “Underchin. Is that a thing?”
We were discussing our dream plastic surgeries. When my turn came around, I was interrupted before I could respond. “I mean,” a classmate shrugged in my direction, “nose.” She wasn’t being mean—if she hadn’t cut in, I would have said the same thing. To our adolescent sensibilities, it was just a fact: Pretty girls possessed cute button noses or sleek ski slopes. I inherited my nose from my dad’s Italian family, along with a propensity to talk with my hands and a superhuman ability to consume pasta. And while Roman noses have long been viewed as stately on men, the imposing size and broad, hawkish bridge of my own nose were not the stuff of early-2000s beauty aspirations. Disney princesses didn’t look like me, nor did models or celebrities. It wasn’t uncommon for my friends to refer to me as T. rex or Dustin Hoffman. (Teen girls may be mean, but you can’t say they aren’t clever.)
Unsurprisingly, I spent the majority of my teen years trying to fix what I perceived as a giant aberration conveniently located in the middle of my face. I perfected a demure head tilt in photos to avoid harsh head-on or protruding profile angles, and I always turned on the flash—the higher the exposure, I figured, the better the chances my face would be washed out and you wouldn’t be able to tell I had a honker. Looking back, I’m impressed with my creativity on the frontier of the selfie revolution, and also deeply sad that I literally wanted to erase my own face so I could feel pretty.
A lot of things have changed since that fateful day when my friends and I casually discussed cutting up our bodies, but what strikes me the most is how, most days, I am totally happy with my substantial sinus situation. Cosmetic surgery is a personal choice, and as someone who believes everyone deserves to feel beautiful on their own terms, it would be disempowering and hypocritical to judge anyone who goes under the knife for any reason. That being said, I’m over my adolescent desire to drastically edit my nose. Some of my acceptance is due to age and experience— I don’t know a single person who didn’t suffer some form of dysmorphia as a teen, and as an adult, I just feel too old and too tired to spend my time hating my own face. However, I also suspect that my relatively newfound nose acceptance is due, in part, to something bigger.
Over the past few years, body positivity has blown up across social and mainstream media. We’ve had a butt renaissance, realized that there is no right size for a thigh, and (finally!) celebrated shades of makeup beyond the spectrum of “ivory” to “fair.” Say what you will about social media, but the internet has undoubtedly increased visibility—standards of beauty are rapidly changing to reflect that there really are a million different ways to slay. And in 2017, I finally feel like we’re getting into the as-yet barely charted territory of the major facial feature that took me decades to understand, accept, and ultimately appreciate. I’m calling it: 2017 is the year of the nose.
This isn’t to say definitively that button is out and aquiline is in. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons notes that rhinoplasty rates are actually up by 2% from 2015; nose jobs were the third-most common cosmetic surgery procedure performed in 2016, with 223,018 patients reshaping their own. As we grow out our brows and celebrate thigh jiggles, though, it feels like we’re also making major progress on the nasal acceptance front.
Not to knock small noses, but a big beak may actually have some advantages. Research suggests that your nose’s form has a function: In a 2010 experiment, scientists found that larger noses were more adept at filtering pollutants, cutting down their owners’ risks of infections and allergies when compared to their small-nosed peers. Another study examining nasal cavity length shows how our noses are shaped in response to our environment—longer, narrower nasal passages help keep incoming air warm for humans developing in cold, dry climates; Neolithic noses in hotter and more humid climates didn’t need the extra heat, so those nasal passages tended to be shorter and wider. While most of us don’t currently inhabit the land of our ancestors today, a prominent nose can flaunt our histories, honor where we came from, and connect us with family.
If you’re still feeling insecure about your less-than-subtle snout, consider that the benefits of a large beak might go beyond increased immunity during cold season. The Metropolitan Museum offers an educational video devoted to prominent noses throughout art history—yes, big noses were definitely a thing, from a Benin queen’s 16th-century pendant mask to Madame X. “The nose seems to define people’s personalities,” notes the video’s narrator, creative producer Masha Turchinsky. You’ll get this if you’ve ever been told that your proboscis “gives you character.” Consider big-nosed bombshells like Barbra Streisand, Sofia Coppola, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, and Lea Michele. Each of these women is known for her beauty, but she’s also known for ambition, her savvy, and her exceptional taste. Maybe it’s just that to make it in Hollywood as a woman with a stately beak, you need a little extra moxie; maybe, though, there’s something inherently empowered about women with big noses.
We’ve seen a very recent surge of large-nosed actresses on screen, as well. In the first half of 2017, two buzzed-about televisions shows broke the mold with large-nosed ladies in roles that considered feminine sexuality on the protagonist’s own complicated terms. I Love Dick and The Handmaid’s Tale feature prominently nosed actresses Kathryn Hahn and Elisabeth Moss, respectively. Both actresses have killed it in other roles, but these shows in particular cast them as feminist heroines, both in the fictional worlds they live in and in the very real world of Hollywood starlets. In Handmaid’s Tale, Offred’s (Moss) smoldering appeal is tied up with her ambition, her intelligence, and her altruism. Hahn’s turn as Chris in I Love Dick is also a new breed of sex symbol: a smart, frustrated female artist who gleefully upends the male gaze to take control of her own desire and desirability.
Maybe this recent spate of badass big-nosed characters is an effect of the aforementioned overall body positivity movement, and a collective effort to be on the right side of history—I think it’s safe to say that setting the nasal beauty standard at “traditionally northern European” has proved, um, problematic. Maybe, as we loosen our strict grip on the gender binary and its definitions of what’s desirable for masculine and feminine stereotypes, we’re coming around to the idea that a shape that’s celebrated in dudes can work for women, too. There seems to be some obvious symbolism in the traditional belief that a feminine nose is perky, delicate, and unobtrusive.
On screen and off, famous women with big noses are consistently more than faddish sex symbols du jour: They have prominent personalities, too, and their physical appeal connected to their complicatedness. Maybe the year of the nose is about a collective coming-around to heroines who know how to get what they want and stand in their own power. I love imagining that today’s 10th-graders might not be picking apart their faces and bodies, looking for things that need to be “fixed,” the way I did with my friends. It’s a new and exciting feeling to see examples of beautiful, desired women who actually look a little bit like me. Embracing big noses is about prominent snouts—representation matters!—but it’s also about embracing the strong women who rock them. No matter the shape and size of your schnozz, I think inventive, charismatic, and in-charge is always a good look.
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to The Flipside (as in the flipside of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here, on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.