Content Warning: This story talks about body dysmorphia and plastic surgery in a way that some readers may find distressing.
I was never explicitly told that I had an ugly nose. But my harrowing self-deprecation made me develop the suspicion that everyone who bore witness to it believed I was some kind of ghoul — a hideous mix of Roald Dahl’s Witches and Rachel Green from Friends, pre-surgery.
I never hated my nose when I was younger. But as I grew up, I learnt I didn’t look like Britney Spears or Xtina — and that the girls who did were showered with attention. Girls on Tumblr all seemed to have teeny-tiny, bump-free noses that were slightly upturned — oh how cute and dainty they looked!
From early teenagehood, I started planning my rhinoplasty. Finally, I’d no longer need to cover my face in photos or feel the pang of embarrassment when meeting new people. It felt like a rite of passage into womanhood, and I was convinced that getting a nose job would make me sexy and unstoppable.
I turned 18 and put myself on the surgery waiting list for a deviated septum. In the consultation room a year later, I sat perfectly still while the plastic surgeon gently tilted my face. “Hmm, your features are unbalanced,” she tutted in a matter-of-fact tone. “Your eyes are very big and your chin is small.” I stared blankly at her as she continued to probe my face. “I can include a chin implant for you. It’ll balance you out.” I’d never felt insecure about [my chin] before, but I added it to my laundry list of anxieties.
Six months later, I was wheeled into a surgical theatre. Happy gas flooded my body. I fell asleep while my mother cried and the surgeon held distorted fingers in front of me.
The recovery was excruciating. Two huge pieces of plastic were shoved up my nose to stop my nostrils from collapsing. My lips became perpetually cracked from breathing through my mouth. I had to use a douche to clear my nose every couple of hours, gagging as huge strands of snot and blood were flushed out. I felt helpless. I couldn't smile, I lost my sense of taste and my eyes were bruised. My friends would visit but I could tell they were just trying to act like I looked okay.
‘Ethnic’ noses are under scrutiny everywhere.
When my nose was unveiled after a long two weeks, I felt underwhelmed. What the fuck was this?! I had anticipated a button nose, one that was barely there and stunningly small. Instead, my nose was merely straightened, and its bump was gone. I had clear air pathways to breathe and functioning nostrils. What a bummer.
Four years later, scrolling through TikTok, I hear “nose job check” over and over, with a catchy tune. That dreaded sound. I can’t look away, as young women film themselves pre-surgery. As the scenes flick through, they appear in a surgery gown and eventually with each smiley phase of recovery — and voila, a teeny-tiny nose. The ski-sloped nose.
The hashtag ‘nosejob’ currently has over 3.5 billion views on TikTok and #nosejobcheck has 2.1 billion views. That's billions of people echoing the same message — you aren’t beautiful unless you have an arched nose, and everyone agrees. If you chop it off, you’ll get thousands of likes and what’s more, sexual attention. These TikToks make it seem like surgery is instant and easy. That you just have to explain to the doctor that you have a deviated septum and voila, 20 seconds later you'll have a free, brand-new nose and no more self-hatred.
TikTok inadvertently promotes nose jobs to young people, particularly girls, despite claiming that it has banned surgery adverts. Just recently, creator queen, teenager Charlie D'amelio, shared her surgery journey as TikTokers praised her for being transparent and doing what makes her happy. But it seems awfully irresponsible for TikTokers to promote the idea that surgery isn't painful or expensive, and will fix your problems.
Since seeing more of this content on TikTok, my shame has crept back, with force. I've started hiding my nose again, even refusing photos and rejecting compliments. Even after the ‘nosejob check’ trend was bred out of existence, it has been replaced by a more sinister one, where the person uses a finger to simulate a sloped nose while posing side-on. The finger is removed to reveal a bigger nose. The creator looks disappointed with their reality and the comments tend to agree.
I'm reminded of when I was a teenager and would take photos of my side profile, using a black marker to edit out chunks of my nose until I felt satisfied. Then I would compare the before and after... a truly sadistic act of cyber-mutilation that only fed into my body dysmorphia.
I started telling people I was contemplating undergoing a second surgery. “You’ve had a nose job?” an acquaintance exclaimed. “I couldn’t even tell!” This felt truly offensive to me. What was the point of surgery if my nose didn't even end up small enough so you could tell it was fake?
Sure, it would be easy to say, “Just delete TikTok." But there is no easy fix. ‘Ethnic’ noses are under scrutiny everywhere. They're deemed to be undesirable and routinely the subject of torment. Type in ‘Arab nose’ right now and you'll be met with thousands of before-and-after photos of surgery. The Middle East leads the world in cosmetic surgeries, with Dubai, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran ranking highest on the list. I often wonder why western society can co-opt some Middle Eastern features like large almond eyes and strong brows, yet continue to ostracise prominent noses.
But there is one niche place on the internet that celebrates large noses — the subreddit Big Nose Ladies, where users, mostly young women, publish photos of their prominent noses. One user said she cancelled her rhinoplasty after reading others' posts. So as with any algorithm, I’m now trying to feed reddit body positivity, so I can start receiving some back.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with body image, please contact the Butterfly Foundation at 1800 33 4673. Support and information are available 7 days a week.