When conversing with my host sister, Sim Sim, over dinner last night, she cheerfully mentioned that everyone is talking about my nose.
Normally, this would shock me. How rude of someone to point out a feature I can’t change, as if I would even wish that! (The truth is, I have wished that sometimes). But instead, I smile, and laugh, a bit bewildered. When I ask why, she tells me that it’s because it’s so long and beautiful.
Growing up, I have been told my nose is strong. I have been told my nose has character, and that my nose is bold, and striking. As if my center feature is a world ambassador that just gave a speech on human rights. I didn’t want my nose to be bold, or strong. I just wanted it to be pretty, cute, and small. To give you a little context, I am a Jewish, half Iraqi girl growing up and living in Los Angeles. In my high school, it is fairly common to spend thousands of dollars on a quick operation to “fix” a nose. In fact, not only do I have a few friends who have gotten nose jobs, but I have a few family members as well. In Los Angeles, not only is plastic surgery common, but walking down the street you’ll find spray tanning services and booths available on almost every couple blocks. A burned face after a day on the beach is welcomed with excitement of a future tan approaching, not feared with a reality of skin damage and cancer.
When I told Sim Sim that I used to wish my nose was smaller, she looked at me with confusion. “Why would you want that?”, she asked, “Some of my friends have gotten nose jobs to make their noses bigger.”
Walking around in Cambodia, I notice every advertisement has photoshopped the skin on the people posing in them to be so white that they have a bluish, alien appearance. Going into stores to buy soap, I can barely find one that doesn’t contain bleach to make skin appear “whiter”, “brighter”, or “purer”, and they are popular despite the health risks and damage that happens from bleaching your skin. Worse, they are sold by the same brands that sell “self acceptance” and “natural beauty” as a marketing technique in The United States. This is a game they play well, profiting off the insecurities of people everywhere.
After my chat with my sister, I felt disheartened. No matter where you live, it is viewed that you can always “improve” upon features that are natural and normal to have. Skin color, body hair, teeth, and even a nose are things that are looked at with dissatisfaction everywhere. The problem is so bad that just simply accepting yourself for what you are without change is viewed as a radical statement against society. All I want is to be able to not shave my legs without people thinking I’m making a statement. All I want is for young women like Sim Sim to be able to lay in the sun’s warmth and enjoy without worrying about if their skin will darken or not. All I want is for girls to accept their eyes that witness the world, their lips that sing, their skin that gives them the capability to feel, and their noses that smell home-cooked food and freshly cut grass.
Yes, my nose is long, and it’s what I was given when I came into the world. And never have I been so, so grateful.