My Paiva Hump

I’m thinking of something that’s a bit of a trigger topic: Body Shame.

The default is related to weight and body shape. And that’s important, permeates our culture. There are other elements, though. Specifically, a simple thing, perhaps the definition of the Obvious and Simple. Your nose.

I have no issue with my nose. It’s somewhat big, sometimes bulbous (whiskey-enhanced?). My mother’s family, the Portuguese Paivas, have a genetic nose-shape called the Paiva Hump, and I’ve always thought of it as a feature, not a bug. Then again, as a man, an over-accented facial feature isn’t much of a target. For women, as usual, it’s different.

So before I move into my “love your nose” speech, please understand that I don’t mean to trivialize sensitivity. We carry these things from early ages, hoisted upon us by terrible people. And the general advice of “well that person should just love you for who you are” doesn’t do much to alleviate the pain of judgment. But judgment rarely, if ever, involves understanding or connection.

To be sensitive and critical of your own face is a constant strain, particularly in this streak of “selfie” fever. When you don’t like yourself, either inside or out, the “selfie” is either a constant work in progress, or an anti-option, a ubiquitous social element that reminds you, over and over, of the thing you prefer to avoid, the thing you feel that you can’t change, the anchor tied around your neck. I’m okay with my face, my looks. I avoid a chain of “selfies” because I eschew vanity.

So there’s the first punch. Universal judgment of the “selfie” (the thing I refuse to un-quote). Again, though, that’s from the mind of someone who, on the whole, has not been comfortable in his own skin. And by “skin” I mean “self”. If Self = Something Rotten, then Selfie = Celebration of Rottenness. So even though I’m okay with my looks, there have been plenty of times when I couldn’t stand the look of my own face.

Many people are not like this. And that doesn’t mean that they are all vain. This gadget-empowered revolution in DIY portraiture has helped plenty of people who were on the fence about their own looks. Even when you don’t like the way you look, or believe yourself to be ugly, there are still those photos that you like, the ones that either make you look glamorous or happy or, well, normal. The photos that show you as you want to be.

A “selfie” can provide such evidence, and even though I make some grand statement about vanity, the truth is that I love to see photos of the people I care about. And of those photos, I particularly like the ones that show true beauty.

Beauty is a combination of contentedness and pride. Beauty is happiness. It is lack of artifice. Or: It can be a celebration of artifice, an acceptance of it. Makeup does not make someone beautiful to me, but the wearing of makeup, the confidence of makeup that does not cover or distort, but accents the contours and features, that can be beautiful.

Beauty is energy. Soul. The most beautiful portraits I have seen are of people who smile, who seem at ease, happy, accepting and, in turn, inviting. There’s a good chance that your favorite photo of your favorite person is simple, pure, and just so “them”.

So: The nose. It can’t be covered up. It is the central feature, the bullseye. And, as with all beauty, it must be owned by that person. Proudly.

Every face has the capacity for great beauty, and the nose is a divining rod of that beauty. I’m not talking about the tiny snip of a nose that blends into a face so perfectly that it disappears. Why would you be proud of something that people never notice?

I’m thinking of art, of the variance in women’s noses over hundreds of years of depiction. The Helenistic Beauty of expression and humanity. Flaunt that nose. Put if forward. Jagged, bulbous, humped (or Paiva-Humped). Flat, dipping, flared. Own it. Recognize that this is the thing you are not supposed to fake. Your face is your gift, your own gift and the gift for those around you. Your face, tied into your persona, is what sticks with people, what makes them remember you and want to be with you. It is You.

However, here’s the confession: I rarely take notice of someone’s nose. Watching a movie on the big screen, the nose disappears into eyes, lips, chin, teeth, cheekbones, etc. I have to force myself to zero in on the feature that is right there at center of a person’s face, the element from which the face blossoms. The nose is some sort of linchpin, a blind spot. It is the open secret, always more prominent to the owner than the observer.

Stay with that last statement. If you want to know how a person views him or herself, focus on the nose. That’s the thing that pops in the mirror, the “self” in the “selfie”. It’s the reason why the reflection doesn’t always match the reality, why we rarely see ourselves the way that other people see us. So I’m going to train my attention to your nose. And it might make you uncomfortable, me staring into the center of your face during any given conversation. But I want to understand how you see yourself. I want that connection, without judgment.

This is where I get to the classic: If someone is going to judge you by your nose, thoughtless and devoid of understanding, that person isn’t worthy of you. It seems like a placation, a thin wafer of consolation that begs you to pretend that the cold, hard facts somehow don’t apply. Because we spend so much energy defining ourselves by reflection, using other people as a conglomerate cornerstone, this Sartrean gaze of the Other warping reality at full bandwidth. And those people who are trapped into depending solely on the opinions of others to measure self-worth and beauty will always be hobbled. It’s the human trap.

Finally, this is about whatever the hell you want it to be. Nose. Smile. Hair. Humor. Body. The people who don’t recognize quirks as amazing, unique manifestations of beauty, conduits of soul and personality, elements of truth — they are lost, and we don’t need to join them as they slouch through featureless, prescribed lives.

This might be the most difficult goal, to disempower judgment, to project truth instead of seeking definition. It might be a feature of living.

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