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Until I was in Grade 9, I never knew I had a nose. A big nose, that is.
In 1970, during geography class, I watched as some boys looked at a picture and laughed. I couldn't wait to see what the laughter was about. When the picture landed on my desk, however, I shuddered. It was a caricature of me and the words: "Nancy's nose."
As soon as I got home I ran to the washroom, pulled out a large hand mirror and looked at my nose from all sides and all possible angles. How did those boys know, but I didn't?
My nose was definitely big: way too big for my face.
"Mom, do I have a big nose?" I asked as soon as she got home from work.
"You got the nose God gave you," she said. "Now, hurry up and set the table."
I set the table the whole time looking at mom's nose. She had a great little nose – not too big, not too small. It sat perfectly on her pretty face. Surely those stupid boys and that dumb mirror must be wrong. My nose must look like mom's nose.
As we ate dinner I looked around the table from mom to each of my five sisters and to my brother. They all had nice noses, just like mom's. Yes, my nose must look just like theirs.
And then I got to my dad. For the first time I looked at him. I really, really looked at him. Yikes! Dad had a wide, long, Romanesque nose. Oh no!
"Dad, do I have your nose?" I asked.
"Well, if you do you're a lucky girl," he said.
That was it. I would have to save up all my babysitting money for a nose job. At 50 cents an hour it would take a long time, but I figured I had time.
My plan was to have surgery the summer between Grade 13 and first-year university. That way, the high-school crowd would be gone and my new university friends would never know I had a nose. Until then I'd just have to endure.
By the summer of 1975, however, I had barely saved enough for tuition and a little extra for a train trip to Vancouver with my friend Leslie. No one on the train said a word about my nose, no one in the Vancouver youth hostels said a word, and no one in the Tofino campgrounds said a word. Perhaps my nose and I were all right after all. Still, I would continue to save.
That fall I started the journalism program at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto. Since Grade 7 all I had ever wanted to be was a newspaper reporter. I loved the program, made lots of friends and gained a reputation as a gal who loved seeking out news.
College boys were definitely cooler than high-school boys – not a mean one anywhere. For almost three years I never heard a word about my nose.
And then it happened.
It was at a wrap party celebrating the end of my stint on the student newspaper masthead. This time the laughter wasn't from a mean boy, it was from a female classmate. Unbeknownst to us, she had organized an awards ceremony. I don't remember anyone else's award, only mine.
"And the winner for the Best Nose for News goes to, drum roll please, N-A-N-C-Y!"
Everyone laughed. Immediately I was transported back to high school. I could hear the laughter of the mean boys and see the picture they had drawn. I tried to be a good sport, and laughed as I received my award. I guess my nose was still too big for my face.
I graduated and worked as a newspaper reporter in Collingwood, Barrie and Oshawa, Ont. The money was never good, and I had rent to pay now, food to buy and car payments to make. The chances of ever saving enough for a nose job were as slim as the nose on my mother's face, but still I saved.
I loved working on investigative stories. I travelled to Montreal for a conference given by the Centre for Investigative Journalism. On the train home, I sat with people I'd met at the conference. One was an older woman who was the producer of a Toronto-based news show and a little bit full of herself.
"Have you ever thought of doing television journalism?" she asked me. "You've got a great voice and you ask wonderful questions. You'd be a natural."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Me, on television?
"I've never thought of television journalism, only newspapers, but thank you," I said.
"You should really consider it," she said. "Of course, though, you'd have to get a nose job."
Yikes, there it was again.
Once I'd started in the working world I almost believed that my nose had grown into my face. I loved having my own place, being independent and doing a job I adored. I was totally grateful for everything I had, and for this life I was living.
Yet, here was an intelligent woman telling me I needed a nose job.
At first my eyes started to get teary, but then I heard a strong, confident voice in my head: You don't have to take this. You are wonderful and so is your nose.
I looked at the woman and said: "My nose and I go together. If they don't want my nose they don't want me."
For the first time since Grade 9 I knew I would never, ever, get a nose job.
Nancy Figueroa lives in Toronto.