Filmmaker Gayle Kirshenbaum made a short film called MY NOSE, which was all about, you guessed it, her nose. From an early age, Gayle’s mom consistently criticized the size of her schnoz, likening it to the Indian on the Buffalo Nickel, and strongly insisted that if Gayle wanted to ever get married, she would have to get a nose job. Still equipped with her signature nose, Gayle is now at work on MY NOSE: THE BIGGER VERSION, which further explores the tumultuous relationship with her critical mother. We talked to Gayle about Jewish moms, self-esteem, and the fate of her nose.
Do you think Jewish mothers are generally more critical of their kids than other mothers?
I don’t think it’s particularly a quality that only Jewish mothers have. They definitely get a bad wrap and I would say that Jewish mothers have high standards and specific standards that their offspring might not agree with and that is where the conflict comes. Since I made my comedic short film, MY NOSE, about my mother’s quest to get me to have a nose job, I have heard so many people’s stories about a critical mother. And I will say they cross over many demographics and ethnicities.
Your mother started being critical of your nose when you were a young teenager. How did this affect your adolescence?
That wasn’t the only thing my mother was critical about. Way before my nose started to grow and develop its beautiful bump, there was my curly hair that was an issue. Interesting to note, that is another stereotypical Jewish trait. She was having my hair professionally straightened when I was young and I actually felt God had cursed me by giving me curly hair. By the time my nose grew and my mother started criticizing it, I already had body image issues and of course, that affected my self-esteem. However, I was born very sensitive and creative, so my outlet was my drawing and writing in a journal. I knew early on that my values were not the same and I struggled not only with my mother but with the neighborhood I grew up in. I gravitated to the creative crowd and at that time in the 70s, we were called hippies. And what was great was I had the perfect hippie hair.
Mothers often use the excuse that they pick on you because they love you. Do you think this is a valid excuse?
Full disclosure: I do not have children of my own so I have not been in the position where I can talk about how I behave with my own child. I could say that my mother has used that line many times. I do think that they want the best for you and that is why they pick on you. But the key here is that they want what they want for you–and that might not be what you want. That is where things fall short.
Did you ever come close to appeasing your mother and getting the nose job?
It was during the shooting of my film MY NOSE that I agreed to visit a plastic surgeon with her for a consultation. Did I consider doing it then? No, not really. I did however have a weak moment once many years ago when I was supposed to go in for sinus surgery. I developed serious polyps and had major problems particularly when I flew and the plane descended. The pressure was so great that I felt like my brains were going to explode and one time I broke blood vessels in my ears and ended up in the emergency room. I was scheduled to have surgery by an ENT doctor to handle this problem. My mother now jumped in with her campaign that as you probably can guess went like this: “They are going right in there so they might as well remove your bump at the same time.” I said absolutely not and she didn’t talk to me for two weeks. Then, I met a songwriter, pretty famous guy who wrote classic songs from my childhood. He agreed with my mother and said if I did have a nose job he would take me out. I didn’t really care about him taking me out but his insistence on how much better I would look had me wondering and I started to consider it then. But I knew I didn’t want a Dr. Diamond nose. He was the doctor who did the nose jobs when I grew up. They all had the same signature nose, turned up and pointed. I liked my Semitic look and didn’t want to change it. I met with a doctor and said I am only interested in having the bump filed down. I don’t want the tip lifted. He said that it would have to be lifted. That is when I started feeling really sick. I could not put the fate of my nose and my looks into someone else’s hands. I not only stopped thinking about having a nose job, but even cancelled my sinus surgery. I went to a homeopathic drug store where they gave me some product for my sinuses and I have not had problems since then. I am so happy to have my original yet imperfect nose.
Do you have advice for mothers on how not to treat their children? Is there a healthy amount of criticism, or would you avoid the nit-picking all together?
I would say that the most important thing is to love your children and to inspire them to greatness but not to pick on them.
In your film, we learn that you have made peace with your mother, and that your relationship has gone from hate to love. Have you completely forgiven her, or have you just become more “zen” about it?
Yes, I have completely forgiven her. And it is quite liberating. Essentially when you render your critical mother or abuser powerless, you are free from all the criticism they express. The question is how to do that. I developed “The Seven Healing Tools” which I teach others how to use. What is really important is to understand where your critical mother comes from and what her challenges were as a child. And then know that just because she is your mother, she doesn’t automatically know how to love you unconditionally and treat you fairly. She has her own stuff and wasn’t born with those skills. If you could look at her pain and look at her being a wounded child when she says something insulting, it won’t hurt you. I now not only accept my mother but love her. We have a blast together. She is one of the most dynamic, funny, smart, versatile women I know. And she is in her late 80s. Don’t tell anyone. She keeps that a secret from many of her friends who are much younger than her. She is a pistol and a force. She is my big kid. And she still sends out those zingers, but they fly right by me instead into me, and we both laugh about it.
-Interview by Molly Tolsky
Ok, now do you want to see the video? You can buy it here. She’s also trying to raise money to finish off a longer feature documentary on the same topic. The longer film will delve into her relationship with her mother (from hate to love) and deals with issues of self-esteem, body image, and Jewish identity. To learn more about the project and to donate money, go here, or go to mynosethebiggerverison.com for more information.