My parents used to joke that when I was born, the doctor didn’t say “It’s a girl!” but rather “It’s a…nose.” This joke was supposedly funny because of my large schnoz, although it’s worth pointing out that I had a small nose at birth, and it didn’t get bigger until my teens.
A large nose is something many women, especially Jewish ones, are sensitive about. And it’s something a lot of women worry about and ultimately fix through plastic surgery. I certainly know a number of people, including in my family, who’ve gotten their noses “done.” I’m sure we’ve all been in situations–at a family gathering, perhaps, or in shul, or at a bar or bat mitzvah–where we’ve looked around and seen rows of women with identical fake ski-jump noses.
When I was growing up, I was told by several relatives that I’d never find a man if I didn’t get my nose fixed. (In a way, they weren’t wrong, since I’m now married to a woman, but obviously it wasn’t my nose that affected my marital status.) One relative even whispered to me that she had set money aside and would gladly pay for my nose job when I was ready for it. Later on, when I had to get my deviated septum repaired, several people suggested I ask the surgeon to just “take a bit off” my nose at the same time. The comments hurt my feelings; I wondered why there was such a focus on my appearance and if my nose somehow stopped these relatives from loving the real me.
While I never thought my nose was ugly enough for me to want to go through an unnecessary operation, it didn’t occur to me until years later that I should in fact be angry about the regular “big schnoz” remarks. Why did they think a larger than average nose was such an issue? Were they ashamed of its stereotypically Jewish look? Why was there such an emphasis on my looks over my personality, anyway? Did they think a big nose would make me an unpleasant person in some way? And why would they believe I’d want to marry someone who was so superficial that only a little nose would do, despite my other qualities? Also, why didn’t they talk to the males of my generation in the same way?
I’ve been pondering all this again since my own daughter was born. She’s absolutely gorgeous and the thought of her taking a knife to any part of her body horrifies me. I’d never encourage her to change her appearance, and I certainly wouldn’t put aside money for that purpose or suggest she wouldn’t be able to find a partner or live a successful life. I don’t want her to feel like there’s something wrong with her, or that her sense of worth is dependent on her looks. But in our society, there’s such an emphasis on beauty, and particularly on a narrow definition of beauty, that I worry she’ll receive negative messages the way I did, even if not from me or my wife.
With increasing numbers of teenagers wanting plastic surgery–and their parents being willing to pay for it–“fixing” one’s looks is becoming a new and disturbing norm. As parents, we need to accept ourselves and our appearances, and our children and their appearances, so our children won’t learn harsh self-criticism at home. And we need to talk to them about what they might see in the media and hear from their friends. We can help create strong foundations so they can learn to ignore our society’s unachievable beauty standards. That’s our role as parents, not making them feel insecure and lacking in confidence.
I for one am going to tell my daughter that I’m proud of my big Jewish schnoz. I actually think it fits my face and gives me character. And I hope my daughter and I will be able to thumb our noses at anyone who tries to tell us different.