For the next six-to-eight years, my profile haunted me. My nose was my albatross.
School was something I had loved—I was a good student—but it was now an unsafe place. If Jamie Ross had noticed my nose, did everyone else? Eventually, through chiding and the occasional taunt, I learned the answer to that question.
Little crab that I am (I’m a Cancerian), I withdrew into my shell. My grades never faltered, but my confidence did. Being in the spotlight, at the front of a classroom, or on a stage for school presentations, was torture. I was gripped by nerves and fear. To this day, I still have a visceral reaction to public speaking; when I must do it, I fake calmness pretty well.
Too big. Too dark. Too white.
As the waves of puberty crashed over me, I became hyperaware of not only the size of my nose, but every single thing about me. I was already uncharacteristically freckled and pale for a Greek. There was no olive skin, and no tan, despite my attempts. In the early eighties (just in case you weren’t around then), tans were still chic, and the beauty ideal in the U.S., at least, was singular for women: you were blond, blue-eyed, button-nosed, and skinny. And tan.
I was too white for the Greeks, and even too white for the Americans. I endured teasing about my nose, and the occasional Casper quip. While my caucasian hair fascinated my black schoolmates and friends (Rahsheedah, a sprite of a girl, loved to braid it), it fascinated no one else. It was too dark and too plain. My hazel eyes, not quite light enough. My freckles, bold and unavoidable. My glasses, so not librarian-sexy-chic. And by then I was sporting a retainer on my upper teeth too. I got hit with the adolescent ugly stick, big time. I knew it, and everyone else did too. I didn’t love myself, and I was pretty sure no one other than my parents would love me either.
Riding the roller coaster of self-awareness…
As I ventured into high school and the final stages of puberty, I left my childhood brain and fear behind. I was a smart kid and a smarter teen; I didn’t like feeling ugly and rejected. I knew I had options, and dedicated myself to transformation, galvanized by 15-year-old angst and rebellion. I had turned a corner in my self-awareness and found solace and my place amongst a group of misfits: the “alternatives.” They didn’t care about the size of my nose. In fact, they lauded the differences.
Although we were complete rejects at our redneck utopia high school, that rejection was OK with me, because finally, I wasn’t alone. One day, while smoking clove cigarettes in the woods behind the cafeteria at lunch, a group of jocks threw a brick at me and my crew. For no reason other than they just didn’t like the way we looked. Nice, right? But we didn’t care. It proved that we weren’t like them, because like them was the last thing we’d ever want to be. We thought we were smarter and more worldly; we were anti-this and anti-that—and everyone else was anti-us. Even if we couldn’t fully conceptualize anarchy and classic punk rhetoric, it was our anthem, and it empowered us.
So I rebelled. Hard. Through clothing and cutting class and wild hair. I couldn’t be pretty, but I could be arty. I got sent home by the principal for wearing a Cult Electric t-shirt with bleached jeans that were shredded across the bum. Sure, I had on boxer shorts underneath, but it was still too provocative. My school friends loved it—that was badassness. My confidence ticked up a few notches, but despite my bold exterior, I was still boyfriend-less and fragile inside.
And my nose. No matter how I tried to legitimize it to myself, I still arrived at the same conclusion: I hated it.
Eventually, a boy in my group showed interest in me, nose and all. I remember being so shocked that anyone could like me or think I was pretty with that big nose on my face. But God bless him, he did. We dated for most of high school, and although it did make me feel better about myself, it didn’t change the fact that I never wanted to be seen in profile. I agonized about walking across the graduation stage, with my nose on display for the audience of students and family. I had anxiety about it every day of my life.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I convinced my mom to let me drive to the beach (about three hours away) with my boyfriend. We were going to stay at his aunt’s house for the weekend, then drive home. She was reluctant, but eventually gave in since we’d only be unchaperoned for the road trip. We got into his compact car, made the trip down, and had a great weekend.
My mom’s maternal instincts must have been trying to tell her something; her reluctance and worry were justified. On the way back in the afternoon, my boyfriend ran a stop sign on a small country road and we were broadsided by an old pickup truck on his side of the car. We never saw the truck coming. I was knocked unconscious.
When I came to, it felt like I was in a dream. I vaguely remember sitting on the ground near the front passenger side of the car, numb and dazed. That day, I am pretty sure I wore all white. I can only imagine the sight I was: immobile and staring into the nothingness of shock, white tee staining crimson from blood that was flowing furiously from my big—and now broken—Greek nose.
We’ve all had an albatross at some point. How did a psychological burden affect your choices and relationships?