07 November 2013


I was reading a fairy tale last night, "Prince Hyacinth and the Dear Little Princess". It's a story of a prince who has an incredibly long nose. His mother and everyone is shocked, but because he's a prince, they decide that nobody is allowed to point out to him that his nose is in any way unusual. They surround him with only people with long noses, always talk of his nose being handsome, make fun of short-nosed people etc., so he grows up thinking that his nose is normal and short noses are weird. Finally he falls in love with a short-nosed (or rather, normal-nosed) princess. She gets kidnapped, and he has to go find her, and for the first time in his life is confronted with people who all make comments about his nose. He doesn't want to accept that his nose is at fault, he keeps thinking it's everyone else who's off the wall with their comments and their silly little noses. It's not until his nose interferes with his pursuit of the princess (he can't kiss her hand because his nose gets in the way) that he admits that his nose is, perhaps, "too long", which breaks the spell; the princess is freed, he gets a normal nose, and all live happily ever after.

Now, today I had a conversation with some friends about kids with special needs. And suddenly this fairy tale popped back into my mind, and I got to thinking: I wonder if we don't do our kids, especially those with any disabilities (or diff-abilities, as it were), a disfavour by telling them that they're amazing and talented and can do anything that anyone else can do. Because one day they'll be confronted with "the real world" which will tell them that their nose is, indeed, unusually long - that they're not, in fact, "normal", and they'll find that their disability really does hamper them in what they might want to do, and they won't have the inner resources to cope with that knowledge. When you have a Prince Hyacinth who's been told all his life that he's the normal one and all the other people are weird, he's going to have a hard time figuring out how live in a world of short-nosed people. Of course, we want kids (or indeed, anybody) to be proud of who they are and have healthy self-esteem, but the Prince-Hyacinth-syndrome goes out the other end - he's deluded about his problem, doesn't know he has a problem, because his mother so carefully shielded him from it.

Now, to be honest, I'd prefer the ending of the fairy tale if his nose would shrink to median proportions, sort of go to a moderately-long-but-still-human size, instead of shrinking right down to being "like everyone else". There's nothing wrong with having a long nose, I'll have you know; I've got one myself (see?). But, you know - I used to very much think there was something wrong with my nose; I used to feel terribly self-conscious about it. Then one day a friend of mine, when I pointed out that my nose was long and had a bump in the middle, said "So what? I like it!" Reader, I married him (what else could I do?), and I haven't felt bad about my nose ever since. In fact, I rather like it because it's unusual (also, several famous Germans have had similar noses - Martin Luther and Albrecht Dürer, for one; also, Vincent Van Gogh, though he was a Dutchman).

But, you see, my schnoz isn't so big and bumpy that it gets in the way of what I want to do. Prince Hyacinth's, on the other hand, interfered with what he wanted, namely to snog the princess (who was locked up in a glass cage or palace, so he could only reach her hand - the details, as given by Andrew Lang, are a little murky). And it's when Prince Hyacinth says that "Well, it must be admitted that my nose is too long!" the spell snaps - both his and the princess'. She busts out of the glass cage, his nose shrinks to allow for adequate smooching (on the lips, no less, I'm sure, although Andrew Lang never says so, The Blue Fairy Book being a publication for children).

Admitting to our problems, even just to ourselves, can be the key to solving them. There is a line to walk between accepting our uniqueness, and closing our eyes to the issues that hold us back. True self-esteem sees our strengths and our limitations, and admitting to both is what lets us go to where we want to go.

Now don't anybody bring up Tristram Shandy - that is not the kind of nose this fairy tale is talking about. This is a children's story, people.

Life, the Universe, and Long Noses. And they lived happily ever after.


  1. My sister called my nose a pig snout when I was a pre-teen and she a teenager, and spent the next few years tormenting me about it. Needless to say, I hated my nose. (And when Carl tried to tell me he thought it was cute, I swatted him and told him it wasn't. Reader, he married me.) It wasn't until the last couple of years that I've looked at it and thought "Huh. It isn't that bad. In fact, if it weren't for my receding jawline, which means I have very little chin to balance out my nose, it actually MIGHT be kind of cute. What do you know?"

    As for the disabilities thing, I've thought along the same lines as you, though not so articulately. Much better to acknowledge the differences, and then figure out first what you can do with those differences, and second, how to overcome the difficulties that will lie in your path that might not lie in others.

    1. Isn't it funny that no matter what shapes our noses are, we're never satisfied? I wonder if anyone has ever said "I love my nose. It's a perfect nose." Well, other than Cleopatra, maybe. Incidentally, judging by your pictures, I don't see anything wrong with either your nose or your chin.

      I've found that admitting to my difficulties, or even just realizing that in whatever-the-issue-is I'm *different* from most people, can bring quite a measure of relief right there. It allows you to stop hunting for the reason, and start working on solutions.