The first time I remember feeling self-conscious about my nose, I was in the seventh grade. I was looking at a photo my mom had taken of my uncle and I sitting at the dining room table, studying for my Bat Mitzvah. I remember looking at the photo and thinking to myself for the first time, I hate the way my nose looks.
From there, I went on to feel more and more self-conscious about my nose. When my crush didn't like me, it was because of my nose. When I wasn't as popular in high school as I'd been in middle school, it was because of my nose. When it seemed like there were no quality men to be found in college, I told my friends that I blamed the straight male-to-female ratio at NYU; but inwardly, I blamed my nose.
Whenever I was feeling particularly low, I would find myself browsing plastic surgeon's rhinoplasty before-and-after pictures online. A few times, I even made an appointment, which I always ended up canceling at the last minute. Sometimes, I'd take a picture of my profile. If I was feeling good, I'd tell myself it wasn't as bad as I thought. If I was feeling bad, I'd tell myself I was hideous and that it was amazing anyone wasn't disgusted by me.
No one knew about my intense insecurity, except maybe for the occasional boyfriend I admitted it to. Those boyfriends would reassure me that they loved my nose, which I appreciated, but rarely believed. Moving into my mid-20s, however, I began to notice a change: I didn't hate my nose as much. Or, if I still did in certain moments, I felt clearer than ever before about where that feeling was really coming from.
Part of this was simply due to growing up. There were, however, a couple of strategies for self-acceptance that I used over the years to stop hating on myself so hard. Though I can't guarantee that they'll work for you and whatever body image issue you're working on (most of us have one, make no mistake), I hope they'll prove useful nonetheless.
1. Admit It When It's Happening & Check In With Yourself
In my case, "admitting it" didn't just mean saying to myself "I hate my nose" — because I was doing that already, and it wasn't very helpful. It meant admitting to myself that I have an insecurity about my nose that was clearly serving as a funnel for other, more complicated feelings. After awhile, I couldn't ignore the pattern: when I was happy and feeling loved, I'd feel good about my nose, or at least not think about it at all. When I was single AF or feeling rejected or unhappy, I'd use hating that particular part of my body as a scapegoat for all my other feelings.
Admitting that to myself — and trying to at least be aware of it in the moment when it was happening — was the first step in making the self-criticism lose its power. When I was having these negative thoughts, I began to try to observe them and say, Oh, I'm hating on my nose again. What else am I feeling? Rejected? Restless? Insecure about being inherently lovable? Thinking about it didn't always make the feeling go away, but it did help me feel like I had more control over it. It also helped me recognize that my negative thoughts weren't necessarily the same as "reality."
2. Begin To Break The Taboo
One of the hardest things about having body image issues is how much of a secret it can become. For me, speaking about my nose — even to my closest friends — was the most taboo, scariest thing I could do. I felt ashamed not only of the body part itself, but also of my negative feelings about it. I was supposed to be smart, a feminist, and proud of my Jewish heritage. My feelings themselves seemed shameful.
As it turns out, it was only by beginning to talk about it with my friends and lovers in my most vulnerable moments that the insecurity began to lose its power. Sometimes a friend would say, Yeah, you have a Jewish nose, so what? Sometimes, people seemed so genuinely surprised by my admission, that it occurred to me that it really was possible they'd never even thought about my nose until that moment. Whatever their reaction, it was never the horrible confirmation of my own fears that I had anticipated; as it turned out, no one's thoughts could be nearly as mean as the voice in my head.
3. Consider Faking It Till You Accept It
Perhaps one of the major turning points for me in accepting my nose was when I got it pierced, around age 22. I was still insecure about the body part, but I was also going through a breakup, and I just needed a change.
I could have gotten a tattoo, but over the last few years, I'd admired women with strong noses who rocked nose rings. They seemed to bring out the beauty and fierceness of their noses, serving also as a public symbol that they weren't afraid of drawing even more attention to their unique body part.
I decided to give it a shot, even if I was still insecure abut my nose. I found that piercing it really did end up making me feel better about it — as I told my family when they asked why I got it pierced, it kind of felt like wearing a giant middle finger on my face to anyone who has a problem with me.
I still have my nose pierced, and it has made me love the body part more. That's why I think breaking "can't wear that rules" is so powerful — it's a public middle finger to anyone who says you shouldn't be drawing attention to a particular trait (even — or especially — if that person is you).
4. Look At Pictures Of Celebrities Who Share The Trait
You probably do this one already, but it bears repeating. Whenever I saw celebrities with strong noses or otherwise typically Jewish features growing up, I'd file them away in a mental rolodex of women who proved my trait could be considered beautiful.
Even if their beauty was still somewhat unattainable, it helped me to see a part of myself in them, and to begin to re-conceive of just how "unloveable" that was part was on me.
5. Make Art About It
Another major turning point for me was beginning to write about my nose. At first, I would just journal my feelings when I was insecure, and that helped, too (if only to give my inner critic some space to say her fill so she could take a breather). But slowly, I started writing about it at work, first doing a piece on celebrities with strong noses, then eventually writing about my Jewish identity and actually posting the above picture of my profile with it — something that would have absolutely horrified me even a couple years ago.
Even if you're not ready to take things that far, you can still take selflies you don't have to post (although you may end up wanting to), draw, journal, dance about it — whatever. You could even record yourself talking about your insecurity in a YouTube-confessional style, without ever having to post it.
The point is, you can work to break the taboo, and to continue to name your fears, in whatever form feels most empowering to you.
6. See How You Can Make This About Something Bigger Than You
It's easier to shift your thinking about something — even if it's your own body — if you make it about more than just self-acceptance. Why does your self-acceptance matter? Who are you hurting by spending so much energy hating on yourself? How is it holding you back from being the kind of person you want to be in the world?
For me, it's useful to think of this as a larger struggle — and that radical self-acceptance, however imperfect it may be, can be my small contribution to the body pos movement, and to being the kind of feminist role model I want to be for my mentee and any other women I interact with. Maybe for you it's about feminism, or your little sister, or embracing your heritage.
Disliking my nose is also part of a larger history of anti-semitism and ethnic assimilation, and in fighting against my own internalized self-hatred, I'm helping say f-that to the white beauty standard that very much still exists in this country.
7. Practice Forgiving Yourself
In the end, I realized my insecurity about my nose was really a way of externalizing my inner perfectionism. I was angry at myself for not being perfect all the time, and for having that imperfection supposedly exposed, smack-dab in the middle of my face.
So these days, I try to forgive myself for not being perfect. That also means that when I still inevitably have these thoughts sometimes, I try to forgive that, too. I'm not perfect, and that is perfectly OK. Even lovely.
Images: Sodanie Chea/Flickr; Giphy, Rachel Krantz