Our Noses, Ourselves
Anyone who was charmed by Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller's Day Off could not help but mourn the loss of Jennifer's face after her nose job, (and other facial re-constructions). What Grey thought to be "enhancements" only resulted in dried up acting gigs and disenchanted fans.
Some suggest that this might also be the fate of actress Ashley Tisdale, the latest rhinoplasty victim who unveiled her new nose last month claiming that surgery was needed to repair a "deviated septum." There have been others who've tried to keep their nose-jobs under the radar -- Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, for example -- or Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller, whose new nose makes her face barely recognizable. I suppose we have Jewish comedian Fanny Brice to thank for the decades-enduring flurry of new noses. Brice, in 1923, became one of the first to have cosmetic surgery on her nose after deciding that her ethnic comedy was too limiting and prone to xenophobia. Disappointed both with the results of the surgical procedure and the response to her attempts to take on more serious theater roles, Brice accepted the inevitable and returned to her signature ethnic comedy.
Although Jewish women's nose jobs have seen their share of envy, secrecy, and disapproval, women's obsessions with their noses -- be they beautiful or embarrassing -- just haven't ever gone away. A new 13 minute film called My Nose, by Gayle Kirschenbaum is a testament to this. At fifteen years old, Kirschenbaum's mother had pushed her to have a nose job, insisting that if she didn't have her nose fixed she'd never be happily married. Kirschenbaum spent more than 25 years warding off her mother's criticisms, but finally decided to toy with the possibility of actually going through with the surgery. She made a film documenting the absurdities of her mother's preoccupation, the opinions of perfect strangers, and the bizarre process of plastic surgery consultations surrounding the "bump" on her nose bridge that is considered, by some, to be her primary barrier for life-long romance.
In 13 minutes, the film barely scratches the surface of how race, ethnicity, and assimilation play into Jewish women's cosmetic choices, but it does catalyze discussion about body image, self-esteem, and mother/daughter relationships. Kirschenbaum does a fine job of exposing these issues in the raw, in part because she manages to capture multiple perspectives without weighing in with her own judgment. But her film makes one thing perfectly clear: women's insecurities about their own physical appearances are far more acute than men's standards of beauty for women. In Kirschenbaum's casual, quirky interviews, the vast majority of women interviewees said: "Do it! Get the nose job! You need it, and it'll change your life!" while the majority of men said: "What's wrong with your nose? It's fine. You're beautiful. You don't need surgery at all." There's certainly something both disturbing and ironic about all of this, and something that suggests what little progress has been made in strengthening Jewish women's self-image. With the women's lib movement, and several permutations of feminism, one would think that all American women -- and Jewish women in particular -- would be capable of celebrating who they are, and valuing authenticity rather than playing into an assimilated ideal that just seems so passé. I've never really taken any personal or sociological interest in plastic surgery... and I certainly haven't ever attributed any importance to my nose, other than its ability to help me breathe. I would suspect that most women of my generation feel similarly, but perhaps this is just reflective of the social circles in which I travel.
So, is the recent surge of attention surrounding nose jobs harkening back to an obsession of the past, or is this something that still feels alive and real? Will the age of plastic surgery age and die out with older generations, or should we expect that nose jobs -- and other jobs -- are here to stay? How do Jewish women's evolving identities fit into all of this?