Meet the Models: Meher Babbar

Meher talks about race, family, beauty standards and the endless frustration of a large nose. Simultaneously making you laugh, and bringing a tear to the eye, this article beautifully explores what body positivity really means and how we come to see ourselves.  

If you were to run your index finger over my nose, as I’ve done countless times in my life, you’d encounter a slight bump near the top, go on a smooth but long passage down, and end at nostrils far wider apart than necessary. It’s been twenty years and I’ve come to like everything about myself except for this damned nose. For me, adolescence was a long lesson in undoing years of internalised Eurocentric beauty standards, deconstructing norms and my negative attitudes towards my body, my community, and my heritage. It took time to love my thick, wavy hair, ribbed like the grooves on a record; my eyes, almond in shape and colour, and my skin warm, awash in red undertones.

My journey in self-love has accompanied, interestingly enough, a larger movement in the mainstream towards embracing traditionally “ethnic” features. Thick eyebrows, plump lips, styled baby hair – they’ve all had their fashion moment. And despite the tricky history of them being derided and shamed on brown and black bodies and celebrated on white ones there is an undeniably transformative power in seeing features like yours desired and lauded. One “ethnic” feature, however, has notably failed to make the cut: the nose.

The nose has always been an underrated part of beauty, perhaps because there’s not much (short of cosmetic surgery or contouring – I have neither the money nor the talent) one can do to work with it. It’s all a matter of fate: a few of us are granted gentle, upturned noses, like Disney princesses; some are spared, given non-controversial noses, unassuming in their manner; others, however, are condemned to boisterous, bold noses that sit atop our face like a big middle finger to the rest of our primping efforts. No number of fresh cuts, smokey eye tutorials, or highlighters can distract from a big nose – it lays you, your faults and riddles, bare. More than any of my other features, my nose marks me as South Asian. It’s that nose.

In school, I toyed with the idea of being any number of different Mehers – a mix of this and that, some Spanish, maybe Arab, throw some Maltese in there for good measure? I didn’t mind being ethnic, as long as I was “exotic”. Though I doubt any women of colour grow up wanting exoticness to be their singular defining trait, the palpable appeal of the term is obvious. Being “exotic” is the most palatable, interesting kind of ethnic-ness (or at least it was to me); it strips away all the troubled and complex histories, mutes all political undertones, and produces in turn an object of desire that’s slightly mysterious, prompting endless asks of, “So where are you really from?” My nose puts a stop to all that. My nose gives me away, dispels all the fictions I may spin; my nose is my exception, as my great aunt pointed out on my 14th birthday: “She’s a pretty girl, but the nose is a bit big.”

My father tells me I have my grandmother’s nose and I think to myself Did she give a damn about it? When she was working to feed her family, did she care whether it was up or downturned? When she became the first female principal of the local school, did she fret over the size of its bridge? Did she constantly compare her nose to others? No, my grandmother was a matriarch, a leader, a magnificent storm of a woman and to deny my nose would be to deny her legacy. To wish for a different nose would be to erase centuries of history, shifting identities, and me at the heart of myself. I’ve come to love my nose because it joins me in an inexorable line with my grandmother, as well as the rest of my family, and big-nosed men and women everywhere.

Our bodies are terribly vulnerable things. They make public the parts we wish to keep private; our bodies mark us and our bodies make us. Coming to love them through body positivity doesn’t necessarily entail deeming every part of ourselves without flaw. We are more than the sum of our parts. Body positivity, as I see it, is recognising our bodies for what they are – inexorably tied up with the us at our core, at our best and brightest and at our worst and lowest. My nose encapsulates all of that for me; it says: This belongs to everyone who came before me and will come after. This nose is big, this nose is South Asian, this nose demands respect and will take no less than it deserves. This nose is me and its beautiful and that’s fact.