Why I Love My Big Nose

After years of wishing she had a button nose, Sarah Liston finally grew into her own.

(Image credit: Sarah Liston)

You might say I have a nose for fashion. This means I have a knack for finding a pair of 1960s Roger Vivier pumps in a bin at a thrift shop in exactly my size, and the best scrap-metal earrings on a Soho side street. You might also say I don't have a nose for fashion, if you're referring to the beakish, wide-nostrilled, skin-and-cartilage sculpture smack in the middle of my face.

I got my first inkling that I didn't possess a button nose at the age of 9. My mother was taking a photography course at the local college and used my sister and me as models. We posed at a mall among the mannequins, at the ends of tunnel slides at the park, and dangling from monkey bars with freakishly serious looks on our faces. But the photo that forever changed the way I saw myself was a portrait-me in profile, in which light pouring in from the dining-room window highlighted my nose rather alarmingly.

"You have an exotic look," relatives said when they stared at the framed print on the wall, "like a young Barbra Streisand." Somehow, I knew what that meant. I started looking at my profile constantly in a handheld mirror to see if I could see what others saw.

That summer, which was filled with endless reruns of Laverne & Shirley, my sister and I fought over which of us was the cute one-Shirley. After much debate, she leveled with me: "You be Laverne. You have the same nose."In junior high, at cheerleader tryouts, I noticed all the other girls had adorable, upturned noses-a beauty essential in our north Texas suburb.

Desperately riffling through a teen magazine, I saw an article describing how to contour a large snout. It suggested I glide a Q-Tip dipped in baby powder down the bridge of my nose and darken the sides with compact powder two shades deeper than my skin tone. I sat in my room, practicing in front of an illuminated mirror for hours. But instead of resembling Miss Texas, I looked like an endangered zoo animal. (By the way, I never did make the squad.)

Getting the attention of boys wasn't much easier. Aware that my profile packed a punch, I hid behind my long blonde hair and sense of humor, laughing even when my best friend referred to my "hook" in front of the popular preppy boys. None of them asked me out, but I did once experience a horrifying French kiss when a guy snuck out of his house and knocked on my bedroom window. When I opened it, my nose crashed into his cheek before our lips even met. Disaster. (Eventually, I perfected the art of kissing without collision-the 45-degree head tilt with a slight neck extension.)

A few years later, it wasn't pom-poms and pecking but punk rock that taught me the most valuable beauty lesson I ever learned: Whatever you are-own it. In the world of punk, there was a refreshing philosophy about looks. If you had zits, you emphasized them by wearing a red polka-dot dress. If you were overweight, you vamped it up with a 1950s rockabilly look. And if you had a big sniffer, you framed it with an offbeat hairstyle. And so, with mohawked hair, my nose took on a new role as fashion accessory when I had it pierced with a silver hoop. I wasn't the girl next door masking herself with spike collars and eyeliner. I was an iconoclast with a European profile-or so said my non-French employers at a French café, who used a beret-clad moi in their print ad.

More recently, as an extra in The Devil Wears Prada, I was among the two nonprofessional actors chosen to sit at Meryl Streep's table for the Paris luncheon scene-and I'm certain my nose had everything to do with it. The directors wanted "stylish, European fashion-editor types." I stood in line with hundreds of people as the casting crew walked by, scrutinizing. When they got to me, they stopped, stared, and told me to go upstairs. I spent 13 hours across the table from Meryl Streep (whose own nose is fabulously distinctive), continually clapping and turning my cheek to the camera as she rose to make a speech. Months later, I went to the movie on opening night. There, in one of the last scenes, I saw my profile-as big as the movie screen-as the camera focused on a character just beyond me. I'd never been prouder. My nose was a star!

I've learned that a large nose is like an unusual lamp at a flea market-something you might not have thought you wanted, but once you look at it, it's too interesting to pass up. Now, I often wonder why women chip away at their noses rather than have them augmented when on the surgeon's table. A prominent proboscis is slightly regal and altogether jolie laide. The phrase conjures up artsy, bookish beauties-like the accidentally glamorous, generous-of-nose Sofia Coppola.

So what if I have to buy Breathe Right nasal strips in large, or that, when my yoga instructor says, "Put your forehead on the floor," I sort of can't? I'm cool with my schnoz-so much so that I chose a short hairstyle because it accentuates my profile. It's my trademark, an accessory, the least shy and ambivalent thing about me. Less beak than beacon.