I didn’t know there was a problem with my nose until I was 24. Really and truly. I walked around this planet for 24 years wearing that thing in front of my face and I never once noticed anything awry in the mirror. But I learned better that fateful spring morning.
A new mom, I had taken my nine-month old to the park to “play” (Who was I kidding? The kid was a veritable potted plant, except I had to keep turning him away from the sun instead of towards it. Didn’t want him to get sunburned, you see. In Seattle. In March. Like I said, new mom.) when a stranger struck up a conversation with me. She was also a mom of a little boy, who was enthusiastically ignoring all the cool playground equipment and eating the woodchips instead, and she lived in my neighborhood.
As our conversation progressed she declared to me, in a way that strangers only do with other strangers, that she was actually at the park because she was going in for plastic surgery that afternoon. Usually she worked, you see, but had taken a “vacation” to get “it” fixed. And “these” she whispered despite us being the only ones in the whole park, gesticulating at her smallish chest. “That’s for my husband.”
“Ever since I was 14, I’ve been saving money to get my nose done,” she explained. “And now I’m 28. It’s about time!” I nodded sympathetically as I squinted at her nose. It looked… just like my nose.
“What are they going to fix?” I asked, hoping she would say a deviated septum or something.
“OMG! THIS!” She stuck her face in my face. A bump on the bridge of her nose came into focus.
“Oh, okay,” I mumbled. The damage was done. As soon as I got in the car, I checked my nose in the rear view mirror. Bump? Yep. (Go ahead, scroll up & look at my pic. It’s there!) When I walked in my house, I dropped wee Potted Plant on the floor in front of some toys and ran to my big mirror to examine my schnoz from every angle.
Where did that bump come from? Surely as a child I had that little button nose that children are, well, famous for. I broke my nose falling off a hammock in sixth grade – was that when it happened? How had I never noticed it before? Was that why Jake broke up with me my freshman year of college? I mean all he said was “This doesn’t feel right.” but maybe he meant “Your nose is hideous! I can’t pass that genetic freak show on to my kids!”
My kids! I ran out to look at Potted Plant. He had a tiny perfect ski-jump nose. Gerber-baby cute if not for the perpetual stream of snot that oozed from it. I sighed with relief but made a mental note to be on the lookout for it as he grew up. Although, I rationalized, he was a boy and the world is more forgiving of mogul-ed noses on men.
After that, I had to check my profile in every reflective surface that came my way. I’m sure people thought I was the vainest woman they’d ever seen. Vain I was not. Terrified is what I was. My husband assured me that he loved me in spite of it which only led me to realize that he’d seen my bump all along and NEVER told me about it!
The Playground Lady’s voice echoed through my head for weeks. Until.
Until I talked to my friend Marianne, pouring out all my trite yet expansive worries on her shoulder. When I finished she laughed her butt off, pointed to her own nose that could best be described as Jewish (which she was), and replied “That’s why I accessorize with expensive shoes.” Her ability to laugh at and even embrace her “flaw” completely changed my perspective.
Why am I telling you this story? Because it is important how we talk about our bodies. Even if it is just to a stranger but especially if it is in front of our children. We should also take care in talking about other people’s bodies. I’m convinced that our extreme criticism of celebrities only eats away at our own self-worth.
Two and a half years ago, I decided to try a little experiment and cut out TV and movies. That’s right – all of ’em. Once I got over wondering what was happening on Grey’s anatomy, it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But the biggest change was how I felt about myself. Once I wasn’t bombarded with “America’s Next Top Model” and “Hollywood’s Top 50 Sexiest Women” and even the more subtle super-skinny-and-oh-so-empowered Dr. Meredith Grey, I felt better about who I was. Although I still struggle with liking myself – you all know how I do! – cutting out the TV made a huge difference in helping me think more positively about myself. I didn’t even realize how far I’d come until I spoke to an old friend who was punishingly critical of her (beautiful) post-baby body and was able to show her my tiger-claw/stretch marks with love and even pride.
Have you ever “caught” a body insecurity from someone else? What’s your secret to having a good self-image?
Thursdays are the Greatest Hits of the Great Fitness Experiment. This post originally ran in November 2007.