My nose has always been a very literal standout physical feature on me. It really isn’t that spectacular or much of an anomaly — yet it’s been the cause of conversation for as long as I can remember.

To be fair, it’s sizable. And I can thank genetics for that. There’s that little bump beneath the bridge — thanks to my mom — and it balloons out a tad above my nostrils (credit: Dave Harwood). Growing up, I never thought of it as anything but an average nose — everyone has one and they all look a little different.

I was a fairly awkward and weird child, with lots of potential for ridicule. I was tall — very tall — as a kid, prompting my curious seven-year-old peers to frequently ask me if I was held back (I wasn’t, I was just a 5’5” grade school kid who also happened to be smart). I was lanky, too, with a particularly boney backside. In addition, I wore glasses and was debilitatingly shy. Oh, and my last name is Harwood, which if you haven’t noticed is one letter away from sounding like a not-so-subtle euphemism for a boner.

I rarely got made fun of though, and never for any of the aforementioned reasons (OK, people still make fun of my last name). When I did get made fun of though, it was for my nose. I’ve been called Pinocchio more times than I could ever imagine counting, and my obtrusive schnoz became my calling card when I moved to Michigan in the second grade. One of my best friends since then still tells the story of talking to one of the other kids during recess about “the new girl with the big nose.” She’s also the friend who advised me, 13 years later, not to get a nose ring (I got one anyway).

I was never really insecure about anything in elementary school aside from constantly wondering if my patchwork jeans looked good with my bubble shirt (note to past-self: be wary of anything that is “one size fits all”). And I certainly never thought of any part of my body as being out-of-the-ordinary. But as that certain facial appendage garnered attention, I started to see its flaws; the bump, that ballooning. Plus the fact that it was on my face, impossible to conceal, didn’t help.

Confused, I started to inquire. “Is my nose really that big?” I would go on to ask friends and family more than once. My mom would always reassure me with “everyone in this family has a big nose” and friends would attempt to do the same by telling me I would grow into it, as if they were talking to a pubescent boy about church slacks.

Growing up as a very single but very eager teenager, I wondered if my nose would ever cause problems with potential suitors. Not necessarily that the size of my nose would drive boys away, but rather, that it would physically get in the way of any romantic prospects. I concluded that guys with noses equal to or greater in size to my own were probably off limits, as I imagined that making out takes on a new level of difficulty if your lips can never meet.

Fortunately, my assumption has been proven incorrect (and a little melodramatic) — but that doesn’t mean the relationship between me, boys and my nose has been smooth sailing.

Recently, to the sheer delight of a teenage me, I was making out with my boyfriend, nose as out of the way as it could be. I’d been getting over a sinus infection and noticed that things were … damper than usual. But being the noble and dignified woman I am, I marched on.

I could feel the snot increase at a concerning pace. My boyfriend started to pull away, and I went on the defensive.

“I’m snotty, OK! Sorry!” I admitted.

“No, Erika, you’re bleeding!”

This actually made more sense. Another joy my nose has brought to me over the course of my life has been frequent and occasionally violent nosebleeds. With a big nose comes big responsibility — and big amounts of tissues and blood loss. Credit for this one goes, once again, to Dave Harwood.

I can essentially track my life’s milestones through the times my nose has encountered bloodshed: middle school play practice, my first day of high school, one of my first college lectures and most recently, macking on my boyfriend.

I shot up, grabbed a tissue and bolted toward the mirror. In short, blood was everywhere; my cheek, my forehead, my chest, my hands (literally and figuratively) were all covered. My boyfriend suffered a similar fate as my gross nose-blood was all over his face as well.

“You bled in my mouth!” he told me.

A modern-day blood oath, united in romance.

I checked the pillowcases and sheets to make sure they were stain-free and as luck would have it, they were. I sat on a chair and “tweaked the beak” as my mom always urged me to do in these situations, pinching the bridge of my nose to slow down the flow of blood. And sure enough, my nose was back to normal in a short while — as normal as my nose can be anyway.

I’ve heard people talk about their noses a lot during my 21 years on this planet — maybe because they’re the cause of a universal insecurity or maybe mine is just a good conversation starter. During these discussion I’ve listened to an unsettling amount of people talk about how much they wish they could just get a nose job — a simple solution to fix a little bump, or shave it down a bit. I’ve never been able to join in on the conversation. Because for as much trouble as one very small (but slightly larger than normal) part of my body has caused me, it’s been pretty crucial to my development as a human being.

Thanks to my nose, I’ve learned to have a sense of humor about things, and to admire some of my physical quirks (aside from that weird bump on my head that I’m pretty sure is harboring some shit). I now have a million stories to fall back on at parties when I’m feeling too shy to just hop in on the conversation; from the time I gushed blood on my boyfriend, to that time when my old college friends made a video for me before I transferred to Michigan, titled “Behind The Nose,” featuring more than enough embarrassing pictures and videos of my time at Illinois.

Everyone has the right to change what they want about themselves, and I’m definitely not here to tell people otherwise. But I’ll take an extra large protrusion on my face (and probably an iron deficiency) if it means I can have a little bit of character and some outrageous memories.

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