"Somewhere on the edge of all our consciousness there is what I call the mythical norm," Audre Lorde articulates in her address at Hunter College, "Difference and Survival," "which each of us knows within our hearts is 'not me.'" That "mythical norm" was a very apparent reality to me. It certainly did not involve my brown skin, my nappy hair, or my unwieldy nose. The latter hit me the hardest; it stubbornly refused to let me pass as anything other than a black bitch. Whenever I complained about the thing in the middle of my face my mom would snap at me, "Are you shaping it?" I would sulk back to my room and get to work.Clothespins or fingers will "work" in a pinch, but the truly dedicated or desperate can now buy specialized device—with names like Nose Magic—to soothe their nasal anxiety. Nose-shaping products first emerged in the early 20th century. Marketed to white women who wanted straighter noses, they were similar to the crude vibrators that were sold as weight-loss aids at the time. Pure snake oil. The science behind them was bunk, but who could resist an ad that compliments you before it zeroes in on your biggest insecurity? "Have a beautiful face… but hate your nose?" You're almost there!
Whenever I complained about the thing in the middle of my face my mom would snap at me, 'Are you shaping it?'I would sulk back to my room and get to work.
"Wanting to be 'white,'" Michelle Wallace writes in the introduction to the updated edition of Black Macho, originally published in 1978, is an "ideological fantasy, socially constructed and yet utterly impossible to achieve, like wanting to be without sin." In other words, the target may move, but to uphold status quo there must always be a target. Usually, the blackest among us is the farthest away.I would liken the pedagogy of nose shaping to the multi-generational dance of turning one's kinky hair into effortful waves, which Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes in his essay "In The Kitchen." Or, rather, I would describe it this way if the ability to smooth nappy hair were an impossible task, futile and unachievable even after hours of hot combing by the stove. My grandfather on mom's side is a Black man from Baltimore. I've seen him maybe three times in my life, but for some reason I have an image of him in my head with a modestly balding Afro, wearing thick-lens, wire-frame glasses, a white button down, and khakis. That's probably a polaroid in a box somewhere; he might be holding my little sister, who is a remarkably adorable baby with a chubby round face, dressed in a pristine white onesie. One thing's for certain: His nose is wide. My late maternal grandmother is Japanese, and I have many images of her, with her stubbed, flat-bridged nose just like my mom's. I don't know which one of them gave my mother the idea that nose shaping was as tried-and-true as an apple a day, but after hearing my mom's stories about standing in front of mirrors as a young girl, it started to make more sense, if not fully. As if neuroses could be handed down by family tradition, it was her nose—or, rather, her lack of one—she was preoccupied with. "You have no nose!" her father would tease her, as she focused intently on the flat, small, button-like thing in the mirror in front of her.
The conceptual incoherence of race is advantageous to white supremacy, as the benefits of whiteness can be extended or retracted pretty much expediently. This is how Jewish people, for example, once considered a subhuman burden on European civilization, have survived to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their newfound white brothers in the fight against brown Muslims.
Hungover, I talk to RealSelf's director of community on the phone and forget to record it. (Bad Journalist.) All I can remember is her—the company's—adamant stance: Plastic surgery is about choice, specifically the power to choose. Who are we to judge, etc. Maureen O'Connor's piece for New York magazine on ethnic plastic surgery last year, in which she presents statistics and facts on rhinoplasty and double-eyelid surgery, comes to a similar conclusion. I don't buy it.
It's kind of annoying to realize that your deepest insecurities are commonplace.
But here, I don't see madness, or self-consciousness, or bad feelings in myself, and my sister looks so peaceful. Now she is 17 and anything but—in a previous dispatch, my mom had lamented that my sister had requested a $300 haircut from an LA salon famed for its mastery of curly hair, which typically cannot be mastered. My mother's denial of her appeal sent her to tears."Two babies" I text back. There's no good emoji.
Little Black girls, tutored by hate into wanting to become anything else. We cut our eyes at sister because she can only reflect what everybody else except momma seemed to know-that we were hateful, or ugly, or worthless, but certainly unblessed. We were not boys and we were not white, so we counted for less than nothing, except to our mommas.