My Feminist Nose Job
Yes, I’ve had one. No I don’t regret it.
These are the first words that come out of my mouth when the waterfall of questions begins. That waterfall is quite rare, though; I don’t tell people about my elective surgery. Even my father-in-law doesn’t know; I can only imagine his horror.
My mother says my nose was perfect, petite and cute-- until I hit puberty. She kept her fingers crossed that I wouldn’t inherit her nose but nature was unkind. By age fifteen, I had a sniffer so hooked, I could graze it simply by sticking out my tongue. This unfortunate facial detail was so powerful, it singlehandedly tempered my boisterous personality and outgoing character. I avoided pictures; I wore my hair in front of my face; I loved hats.
A week before my fifteenth birthday, I walked into the kitchen and stood in front of my parents as they read the morning paper: “I want it. I want that nose job.” Instead of the gasps I expected, they looked at each other and nodded their heads.
“Ok, tootsie. Let’s learn more about it.”
My first appointment was slightly underwhelming. I walked into the surgeon’s office and wanted to know what I would look like, how my life would inevitably change. He had no images, no computer renderings, no words of wisdom; I was forced to imagine. And I did, without restraint. I pictured my flowing brown hair, framing a button, a cute protestant nose, the same kind worn by my Texas classmates. Then the surgeon dropped the bombshell: “You should know that I don’t do those fake celebrity noses…I’ll only do something that will fit your face.” My mother smiled in appreciation and I shrugged my shoulders thinking: anything will be better than this.
I went to the movies with my best friend Elizabeth (a Christian evangelical) a day before surgery. She was disturbed by my giddiness: “changing what God gave you,” she sighed, shaking her head.
It wasn’t the first time I heard this.
“I don’t quite share God’s taste,” I said, tapping my nose with a wink.
The night before surgery, my mother sat with me after dinner.
“There’s something I want to tell you.” She was very serious. “I had this same surgery when I was eighteen.”
My jaw dropped in disbelief.
She wanted me to make my own decision, independent of her own.
And that it was; I knew what I was doing. The surgery was flawless and my friends visited me at home while I convalesced, cotton stuffed up each nostril.
“We prayed for you in Sunday School,” said Elizabeth.
After seven days of house arrest, I was poised for the big reveal. As the doctor pulled off my mountain of bandages, he handed me the mirror. I looked at the reflection and, despite the swelling and the various shades of black and blue, I felt beautiful.
It was no button, but it was better.
Now, almost fifteen years later, I still keep the rhinoplasty amongst friends.
Amazingly, the most accepting and “tolerant” individuals can be the most judgmental. Still, in my mind, I know it was a feminist nose job. It was about choice and self-determination, and yes, of course, I’ll say it and embrace it….vanity.
I gave to my fifteen year-old-self…and my thirty-year-old self is proud I had the guts to do it.
To learn more about Jewish women and their noses (to change or not to change): check out My Nose, a film by Gayle Kirschenbaum.
Colette Cohen is a local journalist at a Boston NPR station. She studied Jewish history in graduate school but turned to radio so she could tell stories full-time. She lives in Boston with her husband and two babies.