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Me And My Big Nose

When I was a teenager in a predominately Jewish girls’ summer camp, we had a little joke: For your sweet sixteen, you got either a pearl ring or a nose job.

Several friends opted for the nose. I didn’t, although my nose is no less prominent than theirs were. I like my nose just fine. I have a nose like my mother had and my father had and my brother has. And my grandfather had, for that matter, although I am glad I didn’t get his ears.

One might even say we have Jewish noses, if one says it with affection, as I do, though many people don’t. (I have a name for people like that. And here’s an interesting article about the term “Jewish nose” in the Journal of the American Medical Association.)

I’ve always been grateful to Barbra Streisand for keeping her nose. It’s a proud nose, a trademark nose. Cher broke my heart a little when she had her nose shaved down to something more pert. She lost a lot of what made her look like her.

I saw Dolly Parton perform the other night. It was an outstanding evening (here’s my review) but I was troubled through the entire show because Dolly no longer looks like Dolly. I kept waiting for her to take off her mask and be Dolly again. She jokes about her surgery, but when she said something about being a “show horse” and having to keep up her appearance, I felt sad.

Joan Rivers also makes me sad. Meg Ryan makes me sad. Kenny Rogers makes me sad. Melanie Griffith makes me sad.

And remember that horrifying reality show, The Swan, where the makeovers included plastic surgery? I was flipping through channels one night and caught the end of it, the big reveal. The camera caught the transformed women’s husband and small children when she stepped out, and I saw a quick flutter of panic cross their faces.

Imagine being a small child and having your mother suddenly look completely different. I think that would be terrifying.

Cosmetic surgery is not a terrible thing. It has many good uses and if I had more disposable income, I’d consider a tweak or two eventually. (Have we reached a point for women where looking our age announces our socioeconomic class?) But I wouldn’t want to look like someone else. It’s one thing to have a little work done to polish up your look, another to do it in order to conform to an ideal. (Especially since there’s no guarantee that you won’t end up looking worse.)

Now researchers in Belgium say that one third of people getting nose jobs have symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. Of 226 rhinoplasty patients they studied, forty-three percent who were getting nose jobs for aesthetic reasons tested high for symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder, as compared to just 12 percent of people getting a functional problem fixed.

And, the researchers report:

In accordance with previous studies, we found no correlation between the patients’ and observers’ evaluation of the nasal shape. Interestingly, there was no correlation between the objective nasal score and the severity of body dysmorphic disorder symptoms. On the contrary, there was a significant inverse correlation between the severity of symptoms and the patients’ evaluation of his or her nose. This confirms that the degree of psychological distress is not related to the actual physical deformity but that it is related to and influences the patients’ perception of his or her nasal shape.

So a lot of the people who wanted new noses have, according to other people, perfectly nice noses. In which case, would a nose job help? You can’t fix what ain’t broke. Twenty percent of people in the study were having revision rhinoplasty—a nose job to correct another nose job. A few people were on their third or more nose jobs. (Though the study doesn’t say which of those were for functional reasons.)

None of this is terribly surprising, I guess. You have to have serious issues with your appearance to allow someone to cut into and rearrange you. (And, full disclosure, I had some non-nose work done when I was a teenager, for functional as much as aesthetic reasons.) But I never see anyone who immediately makes me think,  “Give that poor soul a nose job!” Noses are like snowflakes. Each one unique and lovely in its own way.

It’s such a complex matter. For many people, cosmetic surgery has been nothing but good. And who are any of us to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to have completely new faces, if that’s what they want?

I just don’t want them to want it.

Me And My Big Nose

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APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2011). Me And My Big Nose. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Jul 2011
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