Saturday, December 13, 2008

Faces: Rhinoplasty

My "in-between contracts" times are always much anticipated, as I look forward to writing thousands of words a day. My first week of current unemployment however, I watched six movies and checked 15 books out of the library. Nary a word written. I did, however, have puh-lenty of time to think.

Among my movie rentals was Cabaret, the classic 1972 film. It stars Liza Minelli as the now iconic Sally Bowles, and Joel Grey as the MC. I had heard that this was a star-making turn for Joel Grey (and a coveted role on Broadway) so I was looking forward to it. Grey is extremely talented and carries all his scenes effortlessly. He is so talented that eventually, I could almost stop seeing his nose job.

As I watched, there was a running commentary in my head about the irony. A film about life during the decline of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism in Germany features an actor (nee Katz) who has cut off his nose and changed his name to succeed in showbiz.

In general, I hate nose jobs. As a Jew, this is enmeshed with my identity, with growing up, and with coming to terms with my nose. While not particularly large, it was still never a "button" or "perky" or "fine" or whatever other terms describe the schnozz en vogue. It has a slight but definite curve. It took time and and maturity for me to accept it as is - and also (not to be too melodramatic) to love it; to see it as not just my nose, but "this much mom's and that much dad's".

I looked up to women who "owned" their big noses: Rossy de Palma, Anjelica Huston, Paloma Picasso. (And people can criticize Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand all they want, but I'm telling you, these women would look dreadful with nose jobs.)

A poor rhinoplasty does more than take away a person's heritage; an obvious rhinoplasty (like any obvious plastic surgery) defeats the purpose of the surgery by drawing attention to the altered feature. It messes up the proportions of the face. The space between the nose and the lip, the ergotrid, often looks too long; the philtrum (the little divit under the nose) looks too deep or oddly angled, and the brow and chin seem too heavy, unbalanced by the smaller or too-small nose.

Not only is Joel Grey's nose too small for his face, it is also dated. It looks like an old fashioned '80s-style nose job, when it seemed that the only nose template available was Michelle Pfeiffer's (which looks great on her, btw).

The new/old style nose was recently a blogosphere topic when NY Magazine's New New Face article came out. Jonathan Van Meter wrote of prominent plastic surgeon du jour, Dr. David Rosenberg:
"Rosenberg is also subtly shifting the shape of the New Nose... The nose on the New New Face is strong and architectural and straight. Neither flared nor pointed. More Greek than Roman.''
As many problems as I have with plastic surgery on principle, I am grateful that nose styles have changed. It's sad that most plastic surgeons seem to have very little artistic or esthetic sense, however, and that it all came too late for Joel Grey's daughter.

Joel Grey's daughter's name is Jennifer. You may remember Jennifer Grey from her star-making turn as "Baby" in 1987's Dirty Dancing. She had a nice career already in swing when she opted for a rhinoplasty. This notorious nose job resulted in a well-known name with a suddenly unrecognizable face. For an actress this was a disastrous turn and she could not get any work for years. I can't help but wonder how much influence was papa's nose? Did he make any "suggestions" for succeeding in the biz? Did she feel self-conscious that her nose didn't look like mom's or dad's?

When a parent alters him- or herself permanently, they are essentially saying to their child, "This part of me - and therefore, of you - is wrong". I always think that if I could afford permanent laser hair removal I would do it. But then I wonder what would happen if I had a daughter? What would I tell her when she hit puberty? "No, no, dear, hair is natural, it's normal, it's a healthy part of growing up. I just paid lots of money to remove mine forever, but you're beautiful"? It's not as if society won't bash her over the head with what's "attractive" and "desired" - is it really fair for mom to be part of the pressure?

Of course, one plastic surgeon came up with a partial solution. He wrote and self-published My Beautiful Mommy, a children's book to help kids deal with their mother's plastic surgery. This made the news and hit the blogosphere last April. noted "It's unclear why the mother also chooses rhinoplasty, but she does tell her daughter that the nose will appear "different, my dear—prettier!". Sadly, the "pre-op" mom, illustrated Disney-style, is so unique and so much more interesting as a cartoon than the "post-op" mom. There is no value placed on "unique", though.

I enjoyed Cabaret - the direction, the songs, the performances. Michael York's acting even allowed me to forgive him Logan's Run. Best of all, though, is Liza Minelli's yet unaltered Sally Bowle's face; her giant eyes surround by quirky make-up and a unique coiff - a last hurrah before fascist brutality - and homogeniety - take over.

Extra notes:
Diversity on the human genome here at Scientific American
Truly heinous Nazi children's story (note the Jewish nose details) here from the Univeristy of the West of England Genocide Documentation Centre.

No comments: