On noses

Here’s something I wrote for SBS on my big fat Chinese nose.


My nose is a big, fat, flat Chinese nose.

I never really gave it much thought as a pre-schooler. It worked perfectly well – it sniffed things, wrinkled in disgust, sneezed and performed other critical nasal functions such as facilitating breathing.

I had no problem with my nose. But it became apparent very early that other people did.

Although we didn’t speak the same language, you didn’t need subtitles to work out that my paternal grandfather wasn’t a fan of my nose. He’d routinely place his index finger on one nostril, a thumb on the other and give it a good one-minute squeeze. As I protested (in such nasal tones I sounded like Fran Drescher from The Nanny), he mimed with jokey menace that the peg was next. I didn’t take these assaults lightly. After his pincer move, I’d launch my counter-attack, pressing my nose down so hard that it was practically concave. Then I’d fix him with a deathly stare, let rip a succession of rapid nostril flares and flounce off to play with my pretty-nosed dollies.

My maternal grandmother was another source of nose-ism. Her life was arranged around her obsession with US daytime soaps, especially The Bold and the Beautiful and Days of our Lives. The latter featured a character named Kelly Chase, a former nurse and a svelte blonde stunner. Circa 1988, Kelly and her fellow townspeople were trying to avoid being the next victim of the ‘Salem Slasher’ serial killer. So, was my granny’s concern focused on whether Ms Chase would survive? No. It was focused on the mystery of why Kelly Chase and me, Kelly Eng, didn’t share the same fabulous Caucasian face and nose despite our shared first name. Like many eight-year-olds, my knowledge of the role of genetics and phenotypes in shaping a person’s looks was sketchy. So, I took my grandmother’s comment as another blow to my nose. There was clearly something wrong with it.

By the time I accompanied my cousins to a theme park at the age of 16, nasal self-consciousness was blossoming. There was an artist doing cartoon portraits and my cousin suggested that we get our group done. As we sat down to pose, my eldest cousin whispered nervously, “I hope he doesn’t draw our noses really big…” It was a tense eight minutes as the cartoonist scribbled away. When he unveiled his work, our eyes made a beeline to our noses, which looked… absolutely fine. The relief was palpable.

Self-consciousness was followed by self-doubt. Should I restart my grandfather’s nose-thinning sessions? Could I purchase nose tape, nostril pegs or a DIY prosthetic nose wax kit? No. Meddling with a hooter shaped by centuries of evolution seemed nuts. And my nose and I were likely to spend a lifetime together. So why not try the more affordable and less painful route of acceptance?

A period of personal reflection and re-education led me to conclude that the nose is an under-appreciated organ. Eyes and mouths traditionally get all the poetic attention, but that appendage in the middle of your face is a multitasking marvel. As well as being breathing apparatus, it has great symbolic value. In Chinese face reading (the equivalent of palm reading), noses represent wealth and success in middle age. So, the bigger the better. Dream analysis tells us that noses symbolise curiosity and intuition; they represent listening to your instincts. And my instinct was to be grateful for being so well-endowed.

There are more items to add to my nose gratitude list. My exceptional sense of smell must be related to the fact that I can almost fit a 50-cent coin up each nostril. I can name perfumes from the merest whiff and identify the components of multi-course meals from behind closed doors. When it comes to yogic breathing, I can send air up and down my nose pipes in a way that makes Darth Vader sound demure. And when I whisper into people’s ears, the rounded tip of my nose doesn’t violate ear canals like my pointier-nosed counterparts.

The final step in my journey to #nosepositivity was motherhood. While pregnant with my first child, I wondered whether she’d inherit the long and pointed Anglo Saxon conk of my partner or my *cough* button nose. When Holly emerged, the first thing she did was sneeze and I knew right away: you need a big bugle to achieve that kind of thrust. I craned my neck to see her face. There it was. My nose had been transported onto the baby’s face.

Ah, the Eng nose gene is strong I thought. Then baby number two came along. Would she perhaps be more sleek of beak? Nup, Edith had my honker too. And rather than feeling disappointment, all I could see was total perfection.

The Eng nose gene is strong.

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