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Insta’s Contouring Obsession Made Me Ashamed Of My Nose — But Not Anymore

Photos Courtesy of Escher Walcott. Designed by Kristine Romano.
When did we become so obsessed with chasing a certain look? From Instagram’s selfie culture to how young women really feel about ageing, in our series Changing Faces we'll take a frank and poignant look at the complex and often strained relationship many of us have with our appearance — and how this has been exacerbated by social media over the years.
From the questionable fox eye look to various lip plumping tricks, the transformative power of makeup is interesting to say the least. But my personal relationship with one beauty trend in particular is complicated.
Nose contouring is a popular makeup technique which involves shading and highlighting to create the illusion of slimmer features. It's adored by makeup artists and beauty enthusiasts online. As a Black woman though, with a naturally wide-bridged nose, it used to stir up a sense of shame in me.
For years we have been conditioned to believe that narrow noses are desirable and more attractive. Throughout history, the daintiest features were admired on the faces of movie stars like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and other classic, white beauties. The Black actresses who managed to break into the movie industry during this era typically had Europeanised features, too. Think Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne, whose appearances were deemed more palatable in an unaccepting society. Since then, Black women have been influenced to strive towards Eurocentric beauty standards. Some stars have even been encouraged to go as far as cosmetic surgery to change the shape of their noses permanently.
Photo Courtesy of Escher Walcott.

Growing up, my nose didn't match the smaller noses around me in the predominantly white area I lived in. This bothered me as a young adult, and when posting selfies to Instagram — the social mode of existence — I lost confidence.

When it comes to nose-altering makeup, the TikTok hashtag #nosecontour has 549.7 million views and counting. Influencers are using powder, concealer and cream bronzer to change the shape of their noses, ultimately making them appear smaller. Years ago I was influenced into trying it out myself but as a young Black woman, the technique felt strange. I continued to see my prominent ethnic nose erased from beauty looks in favour of the "perfect, snatched nose" — a phrase used just recently by makeup YouTuber NikkieTutorials. It would be remiss not to mention Kim Kardashian's streak-lined face in a now-infamous picture posted to Instagram in 2014. Arguably, this sparked the nose contouring frenzy among us all.
People of all backgrounds dabble in nose contouring but the many Black women I've seen gravitate to the trend feels harmful to me. Why? This nose-focused beauty standard is rooted in white beauty ideals. The slimming technique has prompted many Black women — including me — to attempt to sculpt and slim down our features. The connotations are sinister. The suggestion is that this is the only acceptable way we can present ourselves online or in real life. It's a saddening regulation to live by.
Head to TikTok and Instagram and you'll spot countless makeup tutorials posted by Black women under the hashtags #melaninmakeup and #blackgirlmakeup. Plenty of these tutorials show Black women applying harsh, light concealer to their nose bridges in a bid to tweak and conceal their natural features. Countless non-Black beauty influencers such as Patrick Starrr and Carli Bybel also practise nose contouring and as a result the technique became a vital part of my makeup process. I would shade around my wide bridge and cocoon my broad tip with light concealer lines, copying the meticulous procedure step by step. In all honesty, it left me disappointed. My nose looked alien on my face.
@jasadetunji #stitch with @elliezeiler i think i used a bit too much 😭 but it still looked good! using the @nyxcosmetics epic wear liner stick in “pure white” 🤍 #makeuptrend #nosecontour #blackmua #darkskinmakeup #fypシ ♬ original sound - jasmine adetunji

Looking back, the discomfort I felt when seeing my nose contoured for the first time led to a positive outcome. I recognised that contouring covers up something that is signature to me.

The damaging notion that my nose should look narrower fuelled the complex I had over its shape while growing up. As a young girl, my nose didn't match the smaller noses around me in the predominantly white area I lived in. This bothered me most as a young adult when posting selfies to Instagram became the social mode of existence. I lost confidence, assuming a problem with my nose's natural wideness.
Developing into a woman alongside the rise of beauty conditioning on social media heightened my feelings of self-consciousness. Instead of flaunting my face in selfies from all angles, I refrained from taking central shots of my face. Subconsciously, I tilted my head to the side in photos in an effort to make my nose appear slimmer.
The same beauty complex I inherited prevails among many Black women today as we continue to be influenced by makeup tutorials which reconstruct our noses with contouring. "Nose contour for Black girls," goes the caption on many nose-tweaking TikTok videos, while the SZA nose contour (inspired by singer SZA) is also popular among Black women on the app. Nose contouring is now so ingrained that it feels like a natural part of the makeup process.
Social media is a huge contributing factor when it comes to a lack of confidence in our appearance. According to a survey carried out by the Women and Equalities Committee in 2020, 69% of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) respondents never or rarely feel represented on social platforms. Having only Eurocentric ideals to compare your appearance to is troublesome. The survey concluded that under-18s believe images on social media influence how they feel about their appearance. Among this group, the most popular social media platform at the time of the survey was Instagram.
Looking back, the discomfort I felt when seeing my nose contoured for the first time led to a positive outcome. I reassessed how I went about applying makeup to my features. I recognised that contouring covers up something that is signature to me. I came to understand that if a trend doesn't suit me, then perhaps it isn't for me.
Triggered by the launch of Fenty Beauty in 2017 and continued by brands such as Sharon Chuter's UOMA Beauty, inclusivity is infiltrating the beauty industry. The diverse faces of Black women are finally being brought to the forefront. They are recognised and emphasised — not concealed — through makeup. As well as this, our differently proportioned facial features are gradually being spotlighted in beauty campaigns, from Dove to Skin Proud. The beauty industry's long-overdue recognition of ethnic features coincided with me learning to embrace my own. I didn't want to conform to previous ideals and so, in a move of true acceptance, I ditched nose contouring altogether.
Happily, in recent months I've seen an ease in attitudes towards the 'perfect' face on social media. Unfiltered selfies and candid shots capturing our unique facial features at all angles are slowly but surely replacing the 'flawless' selfie. Stars like Doja Cat, Lizzo and Zendaya have consistently uploaded snapshots of themselves in this light. In doing so, they are deconstructing the restrictive beauty standards placed upon Black women via social media. Posting photos of themselves in all their natural glory establishes a sense of realism, of which Instagram users have been sorely deprived.
@mayaherykah There’s no way you guys actually like that tiny strip of a nose contour #blackgirltiktok #blackgirls #blackgirlmakeup #rant ♬ original sound - Mayah Erykah
The younger Black generation may still be exposed to questionable, idealistic images as they scroll through their timelines but it makes a difference when celebrities, beauty brands and even ordinary Instagrammers cast the right impression. I've noticed the nose contouring trend dissipating on social media. Although groups of Black women still use the technique, it is beginning to be left behind.
TikToker Mayah Erykah said it best in a viral TikTok video: "Ladies, I think it's about high time we have a little chat. A lot of the makeup artists — y'all have been giving the girls very much one skinny little nose line, and I think it's about time we put a stop to it. Y'all need to go to jail. Enough is enough. I think, We are Black, we have a Black nose [...] Am I the only one bothered by this?" One commenter wrote: "Jail fr 😂😂😂 it's not for everyone tbh... We needa embrace our natural features and work with it." Another said: "I don't contour my nose period!!!!!!!! I'm black and my nose shall also be black."
Personally, it feels good to see people questioning the sharpening and shading. Our ethnic noses are flawless as they are.
As Black women continue to confidently show off their natural features on social media, I believe we can get past apologising for — and masking the shape of — our noses. It falls on those outside the Black community to abolish the standards they have set but the strict beauty regulations that Black women have created for ourselves also need to be broken down and rebuilt. We must redefine what makes us beautiful.

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