I thought I could never love my large nose – but then I had my portrait painted

I never thought that, one day, I would proudly show off my nose, captured in all its crooked glory, on a canvas on my living room wall. As a teenager, I couldn’t stand seeing a photo of my nose in side profile. I hated how big it was and, if people complimented me about my looks, I always felt it was in spite of the most noticeable feature on my face.

Insecurities about my nose have always haunted me – throughout relationships, career successes, failures and everything in between. Last year, I tried to change this, by sharing my journey to attempt to love my nose on social media with the hashtag #sideprofileselfie. It ended up inspiring thousands of others to share their insecurities, but I felt like a fraud. While I was trying to spread the big nose love, I cringed every time I saw a photo of my own.

I was on the verge of accepting that I would never fully see my nose as beautiful when I met Nicholas Baldion, an artist, in a London pub, and asked him to paint my portrait. I was impressed by the art he showed me on his Instagram, particularly a painting of a larger-nosed woman in side profile, and realised this could be my chance to face my fears and embrace my own profile. My hope was that by turning my nose into art, I would start to see it through a more kindly artistic lens, rather than a standard beauty lens where I obsess over how it is double the size of Angelina Jolie’s.

I regretted this the second I arrived for my sitting and he began to stare at my nose, before measuring it, and then slowly photographing it. When I had commissioned him to paint my profile, I had been thinking only about the finished portrait. I had forgotten that Baldion would have to spend hours staring at my biggest insecurity, and then painstakingly translating it on to canvas.

The first sitting was hard. I could not shake the absurd feeling of wanting to turn my head to a front-on angle. I hated that Baldion was openly scrutinising the feature I had spent years trying to hide. Then I remembered that I was meant to be trying to love my nose, and berated myself for being insecure. Yet as the two-and-a-half-hour sitting went on, I calmed down, and began to accept my feelings. I had put myself in this situation, so now I just needed to sit in it.

By the second sitting, I was almost excited – not just by the thought of having an afternoon where I had an excuse to do absolutely nothing, but because it had finally sunk in that I was having my portrait done. I had always associated portraiture with Victorian ladies, or Samantha from Sex and the City – not average young women trying to get over body image hangups. But by letting myself join their ranks, I began to feel I was giving myself importance: my nose may never grace the cover of Vogue, but it is special enough to warrant its own oil painting.

Baldion helped. He told me what he was thinking when he looked at my nose: capturing its tone, colour, form and shape. To an artist, beauty doesn’t necessarily reside in a living Barbie doll; it lives in wrinkles, scars and character. “I always enjoy painting distinctive features,” he said. “And there’s more than one type of beautiful.”

I was nervous to see the finished portrait. What if it was further proof that my nose was unattractive? But when I looked at the picture of a gently smiling woman, confident in her own skin, I couldn’t help but smile back. She looked like me, yes, but she also looked quite attractive. Her nose was powerful. Strong. Almost beautiful.

Since that day, I have spent hours gazing at my portrait, hanging it in pride of place in my flat, and those feelings have deepened because of its strong, queenly presence. But the most amazing – and unexpected – effect of having this portrait of myself is that it has changed my understanding of what beauty is.

I am so used to blindly subscribing to the societal beauty standard of looking like a Hollywood star or Disney princess that I automatically look for my flaws in every photo or reflection of myself, mentally drawing red circles around them, in the way gossip magazines do. But when I look at my portrait, I do so as if it were hanging in a gallery.

The process has shifted my perspective and I have learned to make up my own mind about what beauty means, whether it is a smiling strong woman in an oil portrait, or a real-life reflection – complete with a big, crooked nose – looking back at me in the mirror.