Stripped, Part II – ‘The Aquiline Nose’

[click to read Part I and Part III of my 'Stripped' series]

anna1


“[...] Don’t you realize that a nose like mine is both scepter and orb, a monument to my superiority? A great nose is the banner of a great man, a generous heart, a towering spirit, an expansive soul – such as I unmistakably am and such as you dare not to dream of being. [...] With your face as lacking in all distinction as lacking, I say, in interest, as lacking in pride, in imagination, in honesty, in lyricism [...]“

- Cyrano de Bergerac

A misplaced glance upon a mirror tilted at just the right angle around my twelfth birthday awoke me to the reality of my profile. The slight relief permanently visible to me on the inner lower corner of my right eye was in effect, monstrously visible from outside of my own body. This patch of pink lodged in my peripheral vision was no mere imperfection, a blip in the story of my face. This was a geographical landmark, a hunchback lodged between my cheeks. It was, in effect, a statement.

gogol-nose

Rendition of a scene from Gogol’s ‘The Nose’

The mental image I had of myself contained no such imperfections. I could not reconcile my face with this olfactory apparatus, and in my child’s fertile imagination my dreams fell nothing short of a Gogolian concoction. Something needed to be done.

The conditions were perfect. Puberty was settling in, my insecurities were just at the right level: not enough to qualify me for twice-a-week psychotherapy and not subdued enough to make me feel empowered by my own faults. The fact remained, there was something gravely wrong with my appearance and it was staring at me straight in the face, clinging to its centre in fact, claiming the land of my face all to itself.

No wonder I felt like my nose was deforming my face. The nose doesn’t only determine the centre of our faces, it is essential in determining its shape. As fetuses, our faces grow forward and downward under the pull and thrust of the septal cartilage, which expands its vertical length sevenfold between the 10th and 40th weeks after conception. When we are born, our nasal cavities are located almost entirely between our orbits, but until the age of six, the growth of the nasal cartilage pushes the nasal cavity floor below the orbits. This expansion encourages the separation of the various sutures of the facial skeleton apart, thus bringing shape to our human faces.

When I finally voiced my grave concerns about my nasal handicap, my mother, a small-framed woman bursting with warmth and compassion, advised me not to shun the nose shape the great ancient Romans held to such a high esteem. What I had was not a deformity, it was beauty in an odd shape, and this beauty had a name: Aquiline.

I was momentarily enthused, but the fact remained that the Romans were long gone and I had never seen any Italians with a nose like mine. Acquired not by choice but rather brutally imposed upon my face in a frontal bone collision with a fast moving child down a snow-covered slope in the 80’s, this so-called Aquiline nose would not do. From the onset our noses are the most prominent parts of our human faces. This explains why 23 to 63% of all childhood fractures are of the nasal sort. When left untreated, these fractures can lead to nasofacial disproportions with growth, and because puberty is a time of rapid growth for the nose, this is when it became obvious to me. This nose was not meant to be mine. This was no Aquiline nose, this was a broken nose.

I then turned to my father, a pragmatic with a very big passion for harmony of shapes and colours, and with a very meticulous but gentle and caring eye, who suggested minor corrective surgery. I nodded away. Appointments were booked and off I went to submit my nose to the scrutiny of several white-coated gentlemen whose stiff but polite fingertips danced around my nasal septum – who, it turns out, was deviated – and its fleshy frame. Pictures were taken, and photoshop renditions of my nose submitted for parental approval. In front of me dangled printouts of their interpretation of Anna’s nose, a promise of what it could be, a true masterpiece.

deviated septum

CT scan of a deviated septum

There are two types of nasal surgery that can be performed: the septoplasty and the rhinoplasty. If a septoplasty is meant to correct defects and deformities of the nasal septum (the partition between the nostrils), a rhinoplasty is meant for issues of the aesthetic order and is performed to reshape or resize the nose. I went to specialists in both areas (in an overcrowded hospital basement and a fancy uptown private office, respectively), but because the repairs I needed had elements of medical proportions (my deviated septum did and does cause some difficulty breathing), we settled on the septoplasty.

This procedure lasts about 60 to 90 minutes and is meant to straighten the nasal septum – the wall between the nostrils that separates the two nasal passages. It is made of thin bone in the back and cartilage in the front, supporting the nose and directing airflow.

The procedure can be broken down into 3 steps. First, an incision is made inside the nose and the flesh is separated from both sides of the septum so that the cartilage is left standing loose in the midline of the nose. The deviated portion of the cartilage is then physically removed from inside the nose, and finally, the separated flesh is joined again at the midline.

Picture 2

Steps involved in a septoplasty

But I never submitted my nose to such probings.

I wasn’t going to be into boys until 4 years from then, and I already had all the friends I needed. Maria, was adamant that my nose gave me character and if I changed it I might not recognize myself anymore. Mariana told me that whoever decided to like me would like the whole of me, including my oddly shaped protuberances, and Angela thought it different and full of personality – she said it was ‘very me’.

I gave myself puberty to think about it – much to the support of both my parents – and by the time my breasts arrived and the acne subsided, I had aptly grown into this nose of mine. I was as imperfect and crooked as it was and I recognized myself in its contortions and deviations. I felt like an unconventional lady, and this unconventional nose vertically advertised this across my face. Yes, it was a statement indeed.

I left it alone and at 19, I had it pierced.

Come mirrors, come cameras with their impertinent angles, I’ll flaunt this lyrical Aquiline nose for all to admire. This ‘Cape Roca’ of my body, this promontory projecting into the world before my eyes, preceding me in every direction and enduring the impact of life’s blows, needs not be fixed. It needs to be celebrated and be paid homage, as it was, after all, in its glorious asymmetry that I found the inspiration for being me.

18 thoughts on “Stripped, Part II – ‘The Aquiline Nose’

  1. My nose had a collision with a baseball when I was twelve. My septum lost. For many years, my right nostril was way wide open and my left a skinny channel. Colds were miserable, because at the slightest sniff I would start to bleed. I missed a great deal of 8th grade literature class from having to run to the nurse’s station in order to get the bleeding stopped.

    When I was twenty, I opted for surgery to correct it. I can only say that the aesthetics were a factor but not not the reason I decided to have the thing hammered back in shape. The procedure (at least at that time,) required a local anasthesia rather than general, and so I was awake during the procedure (although sedated.) The recovery was rather miserable, as I was unable to even sneeze except through my mouth.

    In the twenty eight years since, I have not had a nosebleed. I am still not handsome, but at least I can sniff when I need to.

  2. Gosh that sounds painful…

    I hope I didn’t come across as anti-plastic surgery. If I had been in pain at any point during my life because of this, I would have gone running onto the operating table!

    Instead I get to have a crooked nose and make fun of it once in a while :-)

  3. Anna, your writing never fails to impress me, and I love your pragmatic approach to your subject matter – personal, academic, whatever. As one who has always had a weakness for those with ‘strong’ and/or unusual noses, let me just say you are beautiful – inside and out!

  4. “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed”
    - Pascal

  5. I love your “stripped” series.

    It would seem you have gotten on quite well with your Cleopatra nose. Very elegent. Much more intriquing than my pedestrian snoz. I bow to your aquilinity.

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    • Oh gosh! definitely not touching my nose after reading that. Grrr :S
      Thanks for sharing!

  8. I have the same profile, and I think it was a snapshot from the side which made me realize my nose was “different”.

    But it wasn’t. It’s my dad’s nose and my mother’s (how did they find each other? Scent?)

    I’m very happy with it now, and I think I’d feel a bit generic with a nondescript nose.

  9. I take crap from alot of people about my nose, but I just tell them I’m sicilian and it’s not like I was given a catalog to look through when I was busy being devoloped in the womb. But I agree, even though my saying this may make me a hyprocrite, we shouldn’t judge people by looks.

  10. I stumbled across your blog entirely by accident. I would like to add that I have always, always thought women with aquiline noses were incredibly lovely. Such a shape adds dignity, wisdom – but also heightens the sweetness when she smiles or shows joy. Sorry to gush, but I am so happy you did not mutilate your nose with surgery. I think there are many more men who appreciate such a gorgeous profile. It may not be part of the narrow, so-called “mainstream” interpretation of beauty – but who cares? Thank you for sharing your story, it really brightened my day.

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