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.
How to cite this page
Cohen, Colette. "My Feminist Nose Job." 24 May 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 11, 2016) <https://jwa.org/blog/my-feminist-nose-job>.