Broad Noses & The Politics Of Black Beauty

Photographed by Erika Bowes.
In the past few decades there have been some interesting attitude shifts towards the Black woman’s aesthetic and what mainstream fashion and beauty industries deem desirable. Big hips, thighs and bums have become aspirational attributes. Getting lip filler for a fuller pout is now so casual that you can have the procedure done during your lunch break. Even hairstyles like braids and dreadlocks are being appropriated by white women. Then there’s 'blackfishing', where non-Black women style their hair and apply their makeup in a way that imitates the biracial or racially ambiguous woman’s aesthetic.
Whether or not you care to admit it, the fashion and beauty industries are systemically anti-Black women. This is why it took until 2015 for a Black woman (who just so happened to be Rihanna) to front a Dior campaign for the first time in the brand’s then 69-year history. That same year, Jourdan Dunn became only the second Black woman to land a solo British Vogue cover in more than a decade. And in 2018, million-dollar company Tarte Cosmetics saw no problem with releasing a foundation range with only three out of 15 shades suitable for medium to deep skin tones. The examples are endless and, frankly, it’s getting boring.

While some Black women's features have slowly been assimilated by the masses and accepted on runways and billboards, our noses apparently still aren't palatable enough.

But while some Black features have slowly been accepted on runways and billboards, it seems our noses still aren’t palatable enough. Watch any YouTube makeup tutorial and you can bet that there will be a portion of the video dedicated to the obligatory nose contour, regardless of the person’s ethnicity. Look at any photo of a high-profile celebrity and it’s more likely than not that their makeup artist will have practised the 'nose slimming' technique.
Broad noses, particularly Black women's noses, have long been considered unattractive – even masculine. In 2011, evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa went as far as to publish an article in Psychology Today titled: "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?" After declaring that Black women are "far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women," he concluded: "The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among Black women is testosterone." The original post was removed due to the backlash it received but you can still read it online.
It’s the connotation of masculinity which prompted Nicole* to begin the process of getting a nose job. "I’ve always hated my nose," Nicole tells me. "Since I can remember, thinking about my appearance, I’ve always disliked it. A smaller nose has always seemed more feminine and dainty. I always thought that my dad’s nose is like my nose. Because my nose is broader, it looks more masculine to me. I thought [a nose job] would soften my face." After meeting a doctor for a consultation, Nicole (who was 22 at the time) decided not to have the procedure. Nearly 10 years later, she has come to terms with her decision. "I don’t think I’ll ever love my nose," she says, "I’ve just come to accept it on my face. As I’ve got older I feel like the outcome of getting it done doesn’t matter to me anymore."

If you're constantly looking at images that question your beauty then I don't think you're looking at the right things.

Benedicta Banga, Blaqbase
Nonsurgical facial treatments like fillers have recently become popular among those who are unhappy with the appearance of their nose. Dr Tijion Esho, cosmetic doctor and owner of Esho Clinic in London and Dubai, estimates that this is the second most popular treatment after those related to skin for his Black female patients. "One of the things I advocate is that these treatments are supposed to make a better, fresher version of you but they’re not supposed to change you," Dr Esho tells me. "One of the biggest ways you can change yourself is by stripping yourself of your ethnic identity," he adds, admitting that these conversations with patients can be difficult.
Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, founder of SKNDOCTOR, has similar reservations. She explains: "I would say most of my Black clients who are women are very conscious that they want their nose to look contoured but they don’t want to look like they have a Caucasian nose. They don’t want to go too overboard. And for the one or two that do want to veer to the European side, I have to put my foot down." Dr Ewoma goes on to speak about damaging Eurocentric beauty standards. "When I do nonsurgical nose jobs on my ethnic clients, my rule of thumb (particularly speaking about Black women) is yes – I’ll make their nose more contoured. But I make it very clear that I’m not giving them a Caucasian nose. It goes against my convictions." Dr Ewoma often says that as long as the result the client is asking for is a nose that they could have potentially been born with, then she will perform the procedure. "Otherwise, I’m not going to do it," she adds.

One of the things I advocate is that these treatments are supposed to make a better, fresher version of you but they're not supposed to change you. And one of the biggest ways you can change yourself is by stripping yourself of your ethnic identity.

Dr Tijion Esho, Esho Clinic
Constantly exposing ourselves to images of non-Black women who are celebrated for their looks can go a long way in magnifying our insecurities. This is particularly true for women from ethnic groups which have historically been underrepresented in magazines and the social media posts we religiously absorb. "If you’re constantly looking at images that question your beauty then I don’t think you’re looking at the right things," says Benedicta Banga, founder of the Blaqbase app. She continues: "I was always aware that I’ve got a big nose and I think in my younger days I always wanted it to be slimmer. But now I’m okay with it. It’s part of what defines me and what gives me my unique look." Grace Trowbridge, cofounder of online marketplace Simply Noir, has had a similar realisation. "I celebrate my heritage now more so than when I was younger," she says. "I’ve realised that, actually, I’m beautiful the way I am, broad nose or not."
For the beauty industry to ever truly embrace the African diaspora’s aesthetic, the gatekeepers will need to celebrate Black beauty in all its forms, including those of us with bigger noses. Neglecting to do so serves as yet another reminder that the more Black you look, the less you belong in the majority white spaces, including conversations that dictate how we should think and feel about our faces. Performative allyship and contrived promises of diversity can only go so far. Whether or not the industry is sincerely committed to inclusive beauty remains to be seen.
*Name has been changed

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