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Noses in Society: A Personal Experience

2009 February 1
by Natasha

In reading in Victoria Banales’ “The Politics of Cosmetic Surgery” about women of color – including “Jewish, Asian, and Black women” – getting surgery done to “smooth” ethnic features, I related this to my own experience.  I am culturally/ancestrally Jewish, and have a nose that is probably larger than average and has a bump in the middle, a “Jewish nose” you might call it.

I remember looking in the mirror and putting my finger across my nose, noticing that I looked “prettier” without the bump in my nose.  I remember looking in childhood photos to find how old I was when the bump emerged (it was not visible when I was a young child).  I also distinctly remember one of my grandmothers always commenting on my nose when I went to visit her.  She was a wonderful, gregarious, and generally very accepting woman, but she always was telling me “Tosh, you should really get your nose fixed.  You can do it really easily these days.”  My nose, fixed.

I don’t remember which came first, my judgementalism towards my nose or my grandmother’s comments (also probably there were other societal pressures against such noses, which were not in my explicit consciousness).  But I do remember thinking about getting my nose fixed, considering it.  I was hurt that my grandma didn’t like my nose, and ultimately decided for myself that I wanted my nose to be natural. As Erik Parens discusses in “Thinking about Surgically Shaping Children”, it makes sense for people to 1) accept others as they are and 2) let children, to the extent possible, decide whether or not to get surgery.  My grandma said if I had been her child, she would have had me get surgery.  This makes me appreciate all the more that my parents never forced (or even suggested, as far as I can remember) me to change my nose.

This issue really represents an intermixing of technology and people (the cyborg?), and technology and gender (for example the Peruvian women who undergo plastic surgery).  It also brings in the intersection of technology and race/class etc..  I’d like to point out that probably many of the people in our class have had braces, which is a more prevalent, but still relavent kind of cosmetic change / technological change done to people.  It represents a class issue to an extent as well, but in a slightly different way from the Peruvian women: I don’t have hard facts on this, but my guess is that people of higher class levels are more likely to get braces.  Also, while a number of males get braces too, I suspect there’s again a gender discrepancy here.

One final comment on Parens’ article: while I liked the article, I would have appreciated some more information on the other side of the issue — parents who chose to get surgery done to their children.  Addressing the other perspective would strengthen his arguments about the importance of acceptance and allowing children to be part of the decision-making process.

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