Beauty

“These big-nosed women helped me love the way I look”

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Radhika Sanghani
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Writer Radhika Sanghani never felt like her nose fitted into society’s standard of what defined “beauty” - until she was exposed to wonderful women through history who embraced their larger noses. Here, she runs through how they changed her life.

When I was growing up, I never felt beautiful. I would look in the mirror and see my big hooked nose looking back at me. I hated side profile photos, and spent my teens and early 20s secretly wishing that I had the sort of nose that society deems beautiful: small, delicate and straight.

You only have to turn on the TV or open up a fashion magazine to see that women with small noses are considered far more beautiful than their big-nosed counterparts in the 21st century. I accepted this ‘reality’ my whole life - until earlier this year when I suddenly realised that I could define my own beauty. I didn’t have to see big noses as unattractive; I could choose to see them as powerful, strong and bold. 

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I slowly began to love my big nose for what it was, and I decided to help other people do the same. I came up with a movement called #SideProfileSelfie where people could use the hashtag to post photos of their large noses on social media. It’s gone viral, and it’s still helping thousands of people love their noses.

There is a huge power in seeing larger-nosed women say they think they’re beautiful just the way they are - but this isn’t the first time it has happened. There have been a handful of women throughout history who have owned their big noses, regardless of what everyone else has said.

So here are the most inspirational big-nosed women in history - all of whom helped me on my journey to fall in love with my own side profile. 

Cleopatra

This Egyptian queen - famous for being a beautiful badass - had a big nose. It was hooked, pointy and undeniably large. But even with this nose, she was widely seen as “a woman of surpassing beauty,” according to Dio Cassius, and it was why the two most powerful men of Rome, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, fell in love with her.

It’s also the reason I fell in love with her. I always knew about Cleopatra - who doesn’t know about the beautiful, most powerful queen of the ancient world? But when I found out she had a big nose, in a year 8 history lesson, it honestly changed my life.

I realised that it was possible for beauty and big noses to go hand in hand. I began to think of Cleopatra as my ultimate role model - especially when I learned that she commissioned a bunch of coins and busts of herself and didn’t ‘airbrush’ them by trying to soften her features like many people of that era did. Instead you can see her there in all her glory, with her eagle-like nose and jutting chin, proud to be who she is.

I’ve made it my mission to channel that same self-love and unashamed pride in the way I look - even if it doesn’t fit conventional beauty standards. 

Dame Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell in 1929

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Dame Edith was a well-known avant garde poet back in the early 20th century. She was born into high society, and hosted literary salons with the likes of Aldous Huxley and Wilfred Owen. She also had a very long, thin, striking nose that her father had tried to improve by making her wear a nose-truss - an old-fashioned apparatus designed to ‘correct nasal deformities’ - as a teenager to improve her profile.

I learnt about her recently after meeting her great-nephew William, a writer. He took one look at my nose, and told me to look up his great-aunt. I was expecting a dowdy woman with a large nose. Instead I found dozens of images of a beautiful, strong woman with the most unusual nose I’ve ever seen, dressed in elaborate turbans and head-gear. In most photos, she was posing side-profile.

It was amazing. It’s taken me 28 years to embrace my nose in the 21st century where Instagram is full of #bodypositivity with people loving their flaws. But Dame Edith did it in the 20th century when no one else was - and she did it in the most striking, eccentric way.

Even now I’ve learnt to love my side profile, I still avoid ‘out there’ clothes like turbans, because I still think they’re made for women with delicate profiles like Audrey Hepburn. Dame Edith reminds me that even if your profile draws attention, you don’t have to hide away - you can add to it. The more outlandish, the better. 

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl

I’d always known about Barbra Streisand and her big nose, but I only realised just how wonderful she is when I watched the 1968 Funny Girl in my late teens. I was transfixed by Streisand’s Fanny Brice - a self-deprecating comic genius who wins over everyone she meets. It was so unusual to see a woman with such normal features in a black-and-white film, and it made me realise that a big-nosed woman can be the gorgeous heroine who gets the guy.

Since then, I’ve been a huge fan of the actress who has spoken openly about her nose - from pressures to have surgery (she said no in case it affected her voice) to her theory that it saved her from sexual harassment in Hollywood. I’ve loved that she’s played the romantic lead in numerous films, and that the world has accepted her - and her big nose - as beautiful.

But the best bit is that now, just like me, she has left behind her insecurities and come to love her nose. “I love my bump, I wouldn’t cut my bump off,” she told Playboy magazine. “I certainly don’t like pug noses or little tiny noses.”

Anjelica Huston

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Growing up, Anjelica Huston was my idol. She always played strong women - be it in The Addams Family or The Royal Tenenbaums or even The Witches - and she looked so strikingly beautiful. She truly owned her big nose, and even when I still struggled to love mine as a teenager, I would remind myself that Anjelica made it in Hollywood even with her long, bent nose. If she could own hers, maybe I could come to do the same with mine.

Since then, I’ve followed all her interviews and certain bits stand out. Like when she once said: “There were times when I hated my nose. But you grow up and you start to recognise that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that you weren’t born Barbie.”

She’s right. So many of us grow up wanting to look like the standard typical Barbie, but that’s only because society has conditioned us to. There are so many versions of beauty, and women like Anjelica remind me that our so-called ‘flaws’ are what make us special.

I never thought that I would get to the place where I could be as comfortable in my skin as these amazing women have been. But now I can honestly say that I love my side profile and I feel proud to be in the ranks of these big-nosed babes.

In a world full of ski-jump and snub noses, having a long powerful hook of a nose is a way of standing out. It’s a mark of beauty that dates back to the ancient world, and it’s one that we all need to learn to love again.

Images: Radhika Sanghani/Getty