Lately, I’ve been fixating on nose jobs.
As many Shvimer’s before me, I have a Jewish schnoz, defined by Urban Dictionary as “a humungoid nose that protrudes profusely from the face.” My nose is a feature that doesn’t just define me as a member of my family, but a member of a bigger family: Ashkenazi Jews.
It is a well-known stereotype that Jews, particularly Ashkenazi Jews — Jews that originate from Europe and are typically caucasian — have the schnoz.
As much as I love my family and as much as I love being Jewish, I don’t love my nose quite as much. And I wonder if I would feel differently if my nose looked like it belonged within the constructs of Aryan beauty standards.
The first Jewish icon is Jennifer Grey, “Baby” from the 80s classic “Dirty Dancing.” Grey’s character is as Jewish as Grey herself. Baby’s real name is Frances Houseman, and the movie is set in a summer at the Catskills, a quintessential vacation spot for Jews.
If anyone has seen Dirty Dancing, they’ve certainly seen Grey’s schnoz. But odds are, they liked it. Jennifer Grey wouldn’t be “Baby” without that endearing schnoz. Baby’s character is not meant to be traditionally attractive, hence her unlikely love affair with Patrick Swayze’s character and her sex appeal as a newfound dancer.
Grey’s fame can be attributed to her status as an atypical beauty. But Grey wasn’t too happy with this status.
As an attempt to remedy her schnoz, Grey got a nose job in the early 1990s. Since then, her career has been practically nonexistent.
“I went into the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous,” she said in 2012. “I’ll always be this once-famous actress nobody recognizes because of a nose job.”
Barbra Streisand is a different case, entirely. Much like Grey, Streisand is an unconventional beauty, hence landing roles such as Fanny Brice from “Funny Girl” and Esther Hoffman from the 1976 version of “A Star is Born.”
Both of these characters were cast as unconventional beauties with an unapologetic Jewish schnoz. The real Fanny Brice herself was told she couldn’t make it because of her nose, but she embraced it as a source of comedy, surprising all of her (antisemitic) haters by becoming an icon of the vaudeville world.
Streisand’s story is similar to Brice’s. Streisand was pressured by everyone from agents to producers to get her nose done, but she refused. Her nose distinguished her, and despite getting a face reconstruction, her nose remained untouched by surgeons.
Brice and Streisand had one important thing in common — aside from being nosy Jewish girls from New York. They both believed that one’s career should be determined by one’s talent, not one’s nose (or one’s ethnicity, on that note).
“My nose was part of my heritage, and if I had talent to sing and to act, why wasn’t that enough?” Streisand said in an interview with Glamour Magazine.
Streisand’s story was used in the “Born this Way” episode from Fox’s musical comedy “Glee.” Lea Michele’s character, Rachel Berry, a talented singer with a Jewish schnoz, considers reconstructing her nose more to the likes of Dianna Agron’s character Quinn Fabray, a conventionally Aryan beauty.
Berry’s friends point her to her personal icon — Barbra Streisand — and Berry eventually decides against the nose job.
As inspiring as Streisand’s story is each time my mom tells it, I really empathize with Jennifer Grey. It takes a lot of personal strength to be OK with a standout feature that keeps you at the gates of Aryan paradise, but never inside.
It’s even harder when those Aryan beauty standards are essentially unattainable. Grey, Brice and Streisand’s relationships with their noses are implicitly connected to their relationship with their heritage. To go through with a nose job means removing yourself from your ethnic Judaism, as well.
And that’s what’s keeping me from acting on my own schnoz. I mean that and the $5,000–10,000 bill. I would be Jewish with or without my nose, but with it, I’m wearing my Judaism on my face. Getting a nose job would be an internalization of the very antisemitism present in beauty standards.
At the end of the day, this really isn’t about my nose. Everyone has something they’re insecure about, and it would be impossible and unhealthy to go through the world repairing every blemish.
This is really about my Judaism, in the same way it was for Grey, Brice and Streisand. The latter two chose their Judaism, and I want to do the same. Confidence is extremely important, but it isn’t worth me subscribing to the discriminatory beauty standards that dictate our confidence in the first place.