By: Cheryl Chiew
From the time I was little, I already knew my nose was not beautiful.
As a child, I remember my mom telling me how people of the past would pinch the bridge and tip of their noses to mold the cartilage into a sharper, sleeker shape. “You should start young”, she said, “Children have a better chance of successfully creating small noses and you must be diligent with your pinching.”
Maybe my sister took her advice to heart because she has a smaller, bulb-shaped nose while I have a wide, flat nose. Still, my nose worked fine and I didn’t care. My sister could be the pretty one adults cooed over; I was happy to be introduced as “the older sister”.
Then, I morphed into a painfully awkward, gangly teenager. One afternoon, I was having a mid-afternoon snack in the kitchen with my mother. She looked me in the eye and said, “Cheryl, you’re actually not a bad looking girl but your nose is quite big. Do you want mummy to give you money to fix your nose with surgery?”
My 13-year-old self replied with a deadpan “No, my nose is proportionate to my face.” I suppose all mothers want their children to be beautiful, but that comment seemed a bit much.
Suddenly, Instagram and selfies became a thing. I could now compare my nose against everyone else’s. Kim Kardashian sparked a contouring trend and everyone started shading their faces to look like they had sharp Caucasian features. The message seemed to be there was only one set way to be pretty and my nose was not it.
I began angling my phone slightly downward or tilting my head in pictures to create the illusion of a smaller, tapered nose. Each morning I woke up looking like my pictures and envied other girls with the ‘correct’ nose. I didn’t believe the Caucasian guy I went on a date with when he complimented my nose.
In my early twenties was when that I started to become more accepting of how I looked. Social media had evolved to embrace diversity and there was more representation of Asian women in foreign movies and TV. There were online communities discussing how global beauty ideals have become increasingly homogenised and have culminated into ‘Instagram face’.
But a significant moment that changed how I felt about my nose came as I discovered pictures of my grandmothers when they were around my age. They are both glamorous, poised, and beautiful. They are the type of women I tried to copy and hoped to become. And they both did not have tiny noses.
Something clicked when I was looking at their pictures: I have my maternal grandmother’s face and my paternal grandmother’s lips and nose. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have ‘sharp’ noses. For my grandmothers, what made them beautiful was how their strong attitude and confidence translated across the black-and-white photos.
And really, that was all that mattered.