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Cosmetic Surgery

When I was a child, beauty was a big unspoken issue in my family. I often heard my mother talking to people about my older sister and saying that she was such a beautiful baby she could have been a model. She looked like my fair-skinned mother, who was considered something of a “beauty” in the commercialized way of “she could have been a model.” She used to say to me that when I was born, I was the funniest-looking baby she’d ever seen. I looked like my father, with dark skin and lots of dark hair.

When I began to develop into a woman, my nose grew. It became quite large for a small woman. No one spoke about it. My older sister developed more and more “beauty,” and I became more and more “funny looking.”

(I put the word beauty in quotes because I believe that “beauty” is mostly a social construct. We are conditioned to look at some people as “beautiful” and others as not. I remember when I found a newspaper article that said that Cleopatra had a “large nose” and that it was considered beautiful in those times. I cut the article out and read it over and over. The idea of some people being “beautiful” hurts everyone. I believe that everyone is beautiful, but it requires hard work and commitment to live out this belief. I have to constantly reject my conditioned reactions to how people look.)

I lived in an ethnic neighborhood in a big city. No one I knew of had ever had a “nose job.”1 I did not know that just a few blocks away, in another ethnic neighborhood, it was not uncommon. We did not socialize with other ethnic groups. However, the older sister of my best friend was in a high school of mixed enthnicities, and she told us about how girls in her school often had their noses “fixed.” I got pretty2 excited and got the idea that I would do that, thinking that maybe there was a way out of this horror movie.3

I went home and told my parents what I wanted. They offered little resistance. My father said, “Do you know that we think you are beautiful the way you are?” I remember thinking how pathetic that was. My parents knew what I was up against, but they never wanted to talk about anything like that. I think my mother was somewhat relieved by my decision, although it meant spending six hundred dollars—which in 1964 was quite a bit of money, especially for working-class people. She had been saving to buy a mink jacket. (She desperately wanted the owning-class life her “beauty” deserved.) She “sacrificed” her coat for my nose and told me that.

We went to a surgeon recommended by our family doctor. He said I had to wait until I was sixteen, since my nose would keep growing until then. I was about fourteen at the time.

I was often harassed in the street about my nose. People would shout at me things like, “Hey, how is the schnoz?”4 or “Are you getting enough air with that thing?” I knew that every time I met someone, he or she noticed my nose and could not say anything about it in my presence. I had thought that I faced a life with my nose as the centerpiece and had no idea how to handle it. Now that I had a way out, I believed that the pain of it was temporary and it became much more bearable.

I went to confession and talked to a priest about the surgery to see if it was a sin. I picked the youngest priest, who was known for being nice to teenagers. He said he did not know but could not see what would be sinful about it. That was enough for me. There was no discussion with anyone else.

I had the surgery as soon as I could. It was brutal. My face was the color of an eggplant. In the hospital a young boy saw me and screamed to his mother that he had seen a monster. I fainted several times. The bandages had to stay on for several weeks. When they came off, I hated my new nose. The doctor had not listened to me at all and had given me what he thought was a “cute” nose. I did not dare tell my parents how I felt. My mother kept asking me if I liked it, and I said yes, over and over.

I do not think I would have done that to myself if there had been anyone to counsel me about it.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of my “new” nose, and I have decided to have a new round of sessions on the topic from the perspective of being an elder now. Over the years I have discharged a lot about it, but it goes so deep that I know there is more.

I question why I want this posting to be anonymous. Is it because the topic is so humiliating? Or because I feel people will be judgmental? Or because people usually client at me about it in some way? I feel like a veteran returning from war, knowing it is not okay to talk about what happened because people will have very little attention for it. When I do tell people, they usually either go blank and can’t think or they client at me about their own “beauty” story, unawarely expecting me to be the counselor. Or I feel humiliated and pretend I am not.

I would love to hear from others who have had cosmetic surgery. I think it would be a great discussion.

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

“Nose job” means surgery to change the shape of their nose.
“Pretty” means quite.
“This horror movie” means the horrific situation I was in.
4 “Schnoz” is slang for nose.

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00