Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The [Jewish] Nose Goes

(Photos inspired by this image by Ludvik Glazer-Naude)

I am thrilled to participate in Roxy's "Things You Love" week over at Effortless Anthropologie.  When Roxy asked me to send her a short meditation about something I love, I surprised myself when one of the first things I thought of was my nose.  I can't imagine my face without it; I think it makes me look unique, and my other facial features revolve around it like planets around the sun.  However, I didn't always feel at such peace with it; when I was young, I felt self-conscious about its size and bumpiness.  You can read my full piece, truly a love letter to my Jewish nose, here on Roxy's blog!  This complementary entry is a more academic examination of the topic.  With extra pictures.  (Dude, rainbow face paint is not free. ..although I did manage to stack two 10% discounts on top of each other when I checked out.  Still, let's get some value out of it!)

I assume some amount of familiarity with the concept of a "Jewish Nose;" basically, the Jewish nose is relatively big, and usually has some kind of bump in it.  It may curve downward at the end.  Taken by itself, it's not a derogatory term, although the tone with which it is discussed may change the context.  Regardless, the Jewish Nose is a legitimate ethnic trait.

Clearly a Nice Jewish Girl.

In talking over the topic with my boyfriend, he expressed some degree of surprise that one's natural nose would ever be seen in a derogatory light.  He said:

I don't know of anyone or anytime I've heard it used as a negative to someone's image. That is, if its natural.  You only hear that a nose is gross or disgusting if it's been surgically changed...and looks terrible or altered. I can't ever remember a commentator ever saying, "well, if it weren't for his/her nose..."

Maybe I'm just sensitive to such signals in society because I do have a non-Anglo nose, but I feel as though smaller noses do seem to get greater societal approval.  Perhaps it's an implicit message---very few actresses with a schnozz are cast in mainstream roles---but it's a message nonetheless.   (For a counterpoint, see Lea Michele's love of her Jewish Nose here).

Still, it seems to me that the big nose has not been particularly valued as beautiful in our culture.  The Journal of the American Medical Association published a historical look at plastic surgeons' approach to "The Jewish Nose."  They quoted from an 1850 anthropological study that described the Jewish Nose as: 

. . . a large, massive, club-shaped, hooked nose, three or four times larger than suits the face. . . . Thus it is that the Jewish face never can [be], and never is, perfectly beautiful.

(Source).  Surgeons in the 1950's noted that Jews might want to eliminate their Jewish nose to hide from anti-Semitic prejudices in society; even today, medical manuals as recent as 1996 described the process of altering the noses of patients of "jewish descent."  (Id.).  The book The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing Mr. Right outright told women that if they wanted any hope of getting married they should fix "a bad nose."  (Source).

Oh no they didn't!

This is not an entry about plastic surgery.  I'm not judging anyone's decision to get or not to get a nose job, or any other kind of surgery for that matter.  Our bodies are purely our own, as are our decisions.  Several people very close to me had their noses or other body parts done and it didn't change my feelings towards them and I think they look great. I also thought they looked great before.

The discussion of plastic surgery is relevant insofar as it sheds light on the degree to which we as a society think this feature is imperfect or needs to be changed in order for us to be beautiful.  I think the real tragedy is the message that a different-looking nose is ugly or imperfect.  The point is not that it can be fixed, but that it should be fixed.  Or that it should be fixed.

The nose here is a metaphor.  It's not about the nose.  It's about whatever body feature we have that we wish we didn't have.  Do you have a feature you don't like?  Why not?  It's interesting to examine where those negative messages come from that tell us to define our nose or our ears or our hips or whatever as obscene or problematic.  I think it's very rare that the negative message originated entirely within our own psyches without any external social influence.  


There's an incredible episode of the Twilight Zone about this called "Eye of the Beholder."  In that episode, a woman undergoing her eleventh plastic surgery in an effort to conform to society finally removes her bandages to reveal a gorgeous face.  This reveal is immediately met by cries of horror and disappointment from the doctors and nurses who have (what we would perceive as) horribly disfigured faces, but which faces happen to be the norm in this alternate society.  This woman, a knockout from our societal perspective, is cast off as unspeakably hideous.

And that's the cliche crux of this whole thing, isn't it?  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  When society becomes our beholder instead of ourselves---to whatever extent we can even separate the two---I think that's where we get into trouble.

Maybe I think about these issues more than the average girl, but my nose is a wonderful, constant reminder that society doesn't get to make all the beauty rules.  As I wrote for EA:

If my nose was its own person, I imagine she would wear combat boots and a tattered army jacket that she got full price at a military surplus store. She would hate Cosmopolitan Magazine and Bethenny Frankel. 

If I was having a down day, I'd call up my nose and she would take me out for a beer and a hot dog at Rudy's. She'd grab me by my shoulders and shake me hard but lovingly, and she'd look into my eyes when she told me that "THEY" aren't allowed to make me feel imperfect or damaged or in need of fixing. It doesn't matter who "THEY" are, because "THEY" simply don't have a say in how I see myself.

When that pep talk is as plain as---well, as the nose on your face, it's impossible not to believe it.

THEY shouldn't have a say in how you see yourself, either.  I didn't always know that, but I do now.


1 comment:

Kathleen said...

You indeed have a great nose! And it's awesome that you love it now.

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