Being a working woman, I could be expected to be sitting here nicely coiffed, decently dressed and wearing make-up. Being also a writer, you might imagine me instead romantically dishevelled or pyjama clad. These are stereotypes we can all recognise that conform to an accepted idea.
In fact, I am neither and my attire is finished with a nasally inserted tissue. I grant you, it is not the most appealing of accessories. Even the dog raised a quizzical brow at the tissue currently protruding from my nose, but after two days of constant sneezing and nosebleeds, what it lacks in sartorial elegance, the tissue makes up for in practicality. I long since gave up trying to impress my dog with any pretence of elegance anyway…she, after all, sees me every morning before the coffee kicks in. The postman was a different matter and it was in the nick of time that the tissue was removed, even as I opened the door. Though to be fair, that was not about impressing anyone either.
My nose has always been a bit of a preoccupation and a bone of contention. It was an acceptably cute appendage for a child until my mother drove the car into a telegraph pole. In the days of front bench seats and no rear seat-belts, there was only one guaranteed outcome and the nose was never the same. Not that a nose ever does remain the same, time and gravity alter the appearance of nose and ears throughout our lives and while my ears, one of which was neatly reattached by a nifty surgeon in later years, remain of reasonable appearance, the same cannot be said of the nose.
It has developed a thing on the end that my doctor assures me is likely to remain as a permanent fixture. It is nothing much… a tiny pink pimple-type thing. Nothing a little makeup can’t handle, but it adds insult to injury, being dead centre of my most prominent and contentious feature.
The nose was the butt of every family joke as I was growing up and, while such affectionate teasing may hold no malice, to the tender sensibilities of the insecure teen it can be devastating. By the time I reached adulthood, I desperately wanted a nose job… not that I ever got one. I missed out on the one opportunity I had to have the thing tinkered with; before I was twenty, most of my face (and the aforementioned ear) was rearranged by a drunk driver. The nose, however, managed to escape unscathed. It is therefore a survivor and must be acknowledged to have a character of its own.
The worst thing of all is that the nose is not so bad. It never was, had I realised at the time. But over the years I grew into it. I accepted it as an integral part of my face and personality. It sort of suits me, just as the same nose suited my great-grandmother before me. It is, in fact, a family heirloom and one to which I am rather attached.
My only complaint about it these days…other than the eternal pimple-thing and an innate determination to remain doggedly unphotogenic… resides in its current intimacy with tissues and its utter refusal to ignore the aromas emanating from the dairy farm across the field. Were a remodelled nose to be offered to me today, I would refuse…though they could have at the pimple with pleasure.
And therein lies the rub. I spent half a lifetime worrying about that nose, silently traumatised by the laughing comments of my family. I even joined in…unconsciously permitting the continuing damage by perpetuating the family joke. The very real trauma of the rearranged face left its own scars, visible and invisible, but none as damaging as that laughter.
Decades were shadowed by self-consciousness. My self image was flawed and throughout my youth I saw myself as being short, fat and coarse-featured. Short is and always was correct. The rest was not, though the weight is now subject to change without warning. But not only had I permitted the continuation of the joke, I had by that time accepted it as truth and perpetuated it. It took a long time and many changes in my life before I could see the fallacy for what it was.
I have reached a point in my life where the years have written their story upon my face. It has a lived-in look that remembers youth while it relaxes contentedly into age. In many ways, I am younger now than I ever was, as I allow the child in me to revel in the world and play without the self-conscious constraints of youth. Yet there is still the niggle of the nose, lurking somewhere beyond rational thought, even now.
My nose, you see, was never created in a delicate image of feminine beauty, nor was it firmly chiselled with obvious determination. It did not conform to expectations or the accepted norm. To my family, the nose was just a joke.
In any other circumstances, such name-calling would be referred to as bullying. The constant repetition of any statement is a form of brainwashing and one that is used widely today to influence society. The effects are long-lasting and sit deep below the surface of the mind where logic alone cannot completely eradicate them. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by information, slogans and catch-phrases, we are in the same position as the child who hears the repetitive ‘joke’. Unless we can stand back and exercise enough discernment to discard the false impositions of opinion, then like that child, we risk our own opinions being unconsciously shaped or even warped.
To share laughter with others is a joy. To laugh at others…or to feel ridiculed by them…is potentially devastating. I am far from alone in feeling the echoes of such unthinking laughter still nibbling at the skirting-boards of the mind sometimes and I wonder just how many of us would hold up our hands to similar experiences in childhood?
Whether it is a physical feature or an expectation of behaviour or achievement, the idea of not being ‘good enough’, of being ‘lesser’, is all too easy to plant in a mind… and once planted, can grow unchecked with the alacrity of a weed. Our children shape the future, and change begins with the smallest of things. I’d like to think we can plant the seeds of hope, tolerance and love for each other… and let them see themselves as a garden of wildflowers instead of weeds.