When I was younger, a lady told me my nose looked like someone had smeared peanut butter across my face.
Obviously, it affected me because I still think about it as a 31-year-old woman who spends 99% of my time outdoors or in the gym. I don’t care enough about my appearance to brush my hair or wear makeup, yet I am self-conscious about my nose.
It’s not like you can hide it. There it is – your nose, right smack in the middle of your face. At certain angles, in certain photographs, it might look flattering once in a while. But generally, it reminds me of peanut butter. Don’t even get me started about my nostrils.
My nose has changed a lot over the years, actually. As a baby, it was almost completely flat. Brother, being a loving older sibling, was caught on several occasions trying to unflatten my nose by pinching it. Once he pinched it so hard that it was purple for a week. It must’ve worked, at least a little, because the tip of my nose no longer looks like a dimple.
I tried to make myself feel better about my offensive proboscis. I reasoned, hey, all Lao people have sort of funny noses. It’s an ethnic trait. So I observed my relatives and realized: they do not have peanut butter noses. It’s just me.
Back to square one.
In Laos, there is this fad taking over the capital (or at least it was when I was there): Boran portraits. On nearly every corner, you can find a Kodak or Fujifilm shop that will print photos, make copies, or take portraits of you in old-fashioned Lao dress. I thought it would make a unique keepsake.
I chose my outfit, allowed them to fix my face and hair, and posed in front of several scenes with various props. Afterwards, they showed me the unedited photos so I could select the ones for printing. I chose a handful and was told they would be ready the next day.
When I picked up the photos, I had to hide my shock. I could barely recognize myself. Every inch of me had been retouched, pinched, lightened. Where was my peanut butter nose?! Where was my gloriously uneven tan that made me look like I had been working in the rice fields every day for a year?
My younger cousins wanted a photo to remember me by, so I let them choose a copy. Everyone thought I looked pretty. The only person who hesitated to keep a photo was my older cousin, Lan. She has loved me ferociously since before we met, and I can still feel that love today, separated by oceans and thousands of miles.
Lan said, a bit haughtily, “I don’t think I want one. These pictures look nothing like my Goong Nang.”
I silently thanked her for that.
We know that our perceptions of beauty are influenced by our environment. Even so, I am guilty of comparing myself to girls I saw portrayed in American mainstream media. Aside from that one lady, no one had actually pointed out to me that I look different, or that that differentness was unappealing. I didn’t realize it was mainly me who was being too harsh on myself all those years.
Whenever I happen across a group of Lao people, whether they are family or strangers, I am overcome with pride. I find these faces beautiful. I am thankful that, even during bouts of low self-esteem, I didn’t see the point in changing my appearance. I am who I am. My peanut butter nose belongs to this face.
To my younger cousins growing up in America, who may sometimes feel inadequate:
There are days you will feel like an outsider. You may wonder why. It’s okay; it will pass. But if you ever find yourself desiring to change the parts of you that come with being Lao, remember that the people who love you most prefer the face they gave you.
– from Noony with love