The Preoccupation With Your Nose

Your Nose: A History of the Nose, Rhinoplasty and the Attitudes that Shape our Perception, in Five Parts (Excerpted from Toronto facial plastic surgeon Dr. Adamson’s book Fabulous Faces, available on Amazon.com and edited for our blog.)

Toronto Rhinoplasty Surgeon BlogPart 2: The Preoccupation With Your Nose

Tell me about your nose. What does it look like? How is it shaped?

If you like your nose—if you’re content with the appendage hanging from the front of your face—then you’ll probably have to think for a minute about how to describe it.

If, on the other hand, I asked you to tell me about your eyes, or the eyes of the person nearest and dearest to you, you’d probably launch into an immediate and detailed description— the color, the shape, the curve of the brows, the subtle way they change with a smile or a frown.

The eyes are the first thing we notice when we look at a human face. The nose, for all its front and center presence, is barely in the picture. But there’s one exception—and it’s a big one.

If you don’t like your nose, then noses—yours and others—get top billing when it comes to looking at your face and the faces of others. And if I ask you to describe your nose, the nose you dislike, you’ll be able to speak at length about it without a second’s hesitation. You’ll have ready opinions about noses in general. You’ll be a nose expert. You might be like Susan, who, dismayed by her own nose’s slight dorsal bump and droopy tip, developed a nose for noses.

“I examine just about every nose I meet,” she says. “With the best noses, I try to find some telltale sign of a nose job. I’ve been known to approach total strangers with, ‘You have a great nose,’ hoping this would spur on some rhino rhetoric. I’m actually pretty good at spotting a ‘done’ nose.”

There’s an old saying: He who has a great nose thinks everybody is speaking of it. You think—no, you’re absolutely sure—that it stands out, as H.G. Wells lamented of his own nose, “like a bit of primordial chaos.”

You may be supremely self-conscious, like Kimberly, the shy nurse who tried to hide on the subway. “I was constantly aware of my nose,” she says. “The only place I felt comfortable was in the privacy of my own home.”

Patient Jillian, whose crooked nose got even more crooked after a competitive downhill skiing accident, reported being unhappy with it since her teens. “I felt self-conscious when people looked at me from the side as I thought my nose looked ugly,” she says.

Perhaps you’re like Sarah. At family events where photographs were being taken, she always rushed to get in position on the right so that the photographer wouldn’t capture her “bad side.”

When a patient comes in to see me about rhinoplasty in Toronto, I’ll say that most people don’t talk about their noses very much. Most might say that John or Susie has nice-looking eyes or a great smile or nice hair, because those are the things that you notice first. They like their noses and take them for granted. But then I’ll say, “I know you notice noses a lot because you’re looking at noses and thinking, ‘That’s a nice nose. I wouldn’t mind a nose like that’ or ‘Gosh, I wonder why she doesn’t get her nose done. It looks so unattractive.’” And every one of them will tell me that this is exactly how it is.

If someone dislikes his or her nose when they’re young, he or she will dislike it to the day he or she dies. It doesn’t mean that he or she has to have rhinoplasty, but he or she won’t grow out of it. And that’s why we see ourselves doing rhinoplasties even on fifty-, sixty-, and seventy-year-olds. On the other hand, if someone comes in at the age of fifty or even younger and says he or she has only disliked his or her nose for six months or a year, that’s a red flag for me. There may be something else going on in that person’s life that rhinoplasty won’t fix.

Rhinoplasty can make your nose smaller and narrower (or bigger and wider, for that matter). It can make a crooked nose straighter. It can remove bumps, reshape the tip, and change the angle between the nose and the upper lip. If you’ve ever broken your nose, if it has collided with a door, a hockey stick, or anything else, you may have problems breathing through it. Rhinoplasty can correct that too. In short, a nose job can work wonders.

But these are all physical changes. Something else also goes on with rhinoplasty patients. They can undergo emotional and psychological changes for the better. A fifty-year-old woman with an aging face problem will feel good about herself after a face-lift because her outer appearance will match her inner self. She’ll look the way she feels. A rhinoplasty patient often struggles with more profound issues. The nose has great psychological, emotional, social, and symbolic importance. In their study of the psychological effects of plastic surgery, John and Marcia Goin observe, “Our literary, mythic and folkloric heritage abounds with references to it. We say that people are nosy or hard-nosed, or that they have their noses to the grindstone. We count noses, look down them, nose out competitors and win by a nose.”

A lifetime of self-consciousness about a nose that somehow isn’t right—that you believe causes others to look down their noses at you—can set off a cascade of consequences.

As a high schooler, Kimberly wanted to be a trial lawyer but, because of her nose, couldn’t bear the thought of standing up and arguing a case in front of a courtroom full of people. Later, when her marriage hit the rocks, she found a way to blame it on her nose.

Next we highlight Famous Noses of History!