'I may be striking – but I'd rather be pretty'
Since she was small, Katie Grant has felt self-conscious about her nose. Should she opt for surgery – or, as a Jew, would she be denying her cultural identity?
There's been an epidemic raging in Hollywood of late: Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Ashley Tisdale – these are but a few of the stars allegedly afflicted by the outbreak of deviated septae sweeping Tinseltown. Of course, for the cynics among us, a "deviated septum" is clearly code – and not exactly Poe's Cryptographic Challenge at that – for "nose job" or a medically motivated "broken nose". From Scarlett Johansson to Blake Lively, denying rumours of cosmetic rhinoplasty seems to be something of a full-time job for many a starlet.
For most of my life, I've fantasised about trading in my prominent Jewish nose for a less conspicuous model. I distinctly remember craning my neck aged seven to examine my profile in the mirror one day, and noticing for the first time that, instead of following a clean geometric line ending in a neat point like the other girls in my class, my nose featured a noticeable hump on its bridge before curving downwards into an unsightly hook shape. "I'm the Wicked Witch of the West!" I realised, horrified. Determine to transform myself into Glinda the Good Witch, I spent weeks with my finger pressed against the bottom of my nose, pushing it up into an exaggerated pig snout, before I had the enterprising idea of Sellotaping it into place for a day in hopes that it would set permanently in this position.
"Striking", "exotic", "unique" – these are the kinds of adjectives friends, family and boyfriends have used over the years to describe my looks. I couldn't help but wonder, though, if these were just polite synonyms for "strange", "foreign" and "ugly". I didn't want to be unique, I wanted to be pretty and, if I couldn't be pretty, then I would settle for ordinary. Looking "Jewish", I decided, did not lend itself well to either of these things.
Perhaps it's no surprise I came to feel this way, since such an outlook has been deeply embedded within the collective Western psyche for centuries. In 1850, the surgeon and anthropologist Robert Knox declared, "the Jewish face can never [be] perfectly beautiful."
In recent years, I've been giving serious thought to undergoing surgery – purely for health reasons though, you understand – this deviated septum wreaks havoc with my airways. Thus, I made an appointment at a Harley Street clinic to explore the possibility of corrective rhinoplasty.
The bubbly nurse I met seemed to think I had made the right decision, assuring me it was a procedure perfectly suited to people such as myself with distinctively "ethnic" features. It would be very simple, not particularly painful and the results would be life-changing, she promised, thrusting a stack of forms under my ethnic nose for me to sign.
She booked me in to see Mr S, who came highly recommended by my nurse: "He did a brilliant job on my boobs!" she trilled.
After appraising my nose, Mr S advised me gravely that my problems were threefold: I had a droopy tip, dorsal hump and deviation to the left to contend with – in layman's terms I had a long, wonky, bumpy nose or, as he put it, a "typical Jewish nose".
In order to correct these "abnormalities" he would perform an open rhinoplasty, breaking my nose, before eliminating the bump, reducing the cartilage to shorten the tip, and straightening it out. Not quite the simple, relatively painless procedure the nurse had described, then.
I asked the surgeon a number of questions regarding pain, scarring and surgical complications, all of which he dismissed with a casual wave of his hand.
"How long will it take for the bruising to go down?" I finally inquired.
"Oh, a couple of weeks", he replied breezily, "and if people ask you what's happened, just tell them you were in a car crash."
I stared at Mr S in disbelief until, realising he may have said something slightly remiss, he attempted to smooth things over, adding, "Don't worry, you'll see a vast improvement. I can absolutely make your nose more beautiful, less Jewish and unattractive." I stormed out, furious. Shattered ego aside, I was appalled that Mr S clearly equated Jewishness with ugliness – it didn't strike me until later that he had in fact articulated my own private worries.
Over the years, the phrase "Jewish nose" has somehow become shorthand among medical practitioners to denote a race-based physical deformity. In the lead up to the Second World War, as anti-Semitism became increasingly widespread, it became commonplace for Jewish immigrants to undergo surgery to escape social and economic alienation.
In her essay The "Jewish Nose" and Plastic Surgery: Origins and Implications, Beth Preminger explains: "By incorporating this term into their clinical vocabulary, early plastic surgeons unwittingly lent scientific credibility to popular stereotypes about beauty and ethnicity."
Consequently, the "Jewish nose" was transformed into a "pathological condition for which there existed a medical protocol for correction".
Indeed, for decades it has been considered almost a rite of passage for many young, Jewish American girls of affluent backgrounds to go under the surgeon's knife. Surprisingly, though, recent statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reveal a 37 per cent decline in nose jobs between 2000 and 2011.
Anthropologists and surgeons suggest this could be attributed to increased ethnic pride in would-be patients, and their rejection of traditional archetypes of Western beauty in favour of celebrating diversity.
Allowing Mr S to operate on me would have involved sacrificing, in part, my cultural identity, and validating his prejudiced and damaging outlook, cutting my nose off to spite my and every other "ethnic" face, be it black, Asian, Arabic or Jewish.
Nevertheless, my fear that a face like mine could never be considered beautiful persists, and it would be a lie to say I would never consider rhinoplasty. The truth is, if I found a surgeon skilful enough to modify my nose so it wasn't quite so prominent, while respecting the original characteristics enough to retain my cultural heritage, chances are I'd be knocked out on his operating table quicker than you could say the words "deviated septum". For the time being, though, mine is the only nose I pick.
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