In My Journey for Self-Acceptance, Could the Third Nose Be the Charm?
Barbra Streisand recently said that if she had ever had a nose job, she never would have had a singing career. Despite being pushed to “fix it” to be less noticeably Jewish, her nose became her moniker. However, I didn’t have the where-with-all to resist the prodding of others.
Growing up in a traditional Jewish family in a small town in Upstate New York, my mother’s approval was conditional. It was dependent upon how I looked to the outside world, and to the man I was going to marry.
She read somewhere that too many Jewish guys were marrying shikas. and I needed to modify my long, bulbous ethnic nose. It looked good on my father, (picture Lorne Greene, the patriarch from “Bonanza”), but not on me.
I was 18, a freshman at Simmons College, an all-women’s school in Boston. A group of us were having lunch in our school cafeteria. Rhinoplasties were the topic of discussion and a few of the girls boasted that they could tell who had the surgery. The mother of one turned to me and said, “Ann dear, you look like you would be a good candidate.”
I was horrified, mostly because I’d just had it done. My surgery was supposed to produce a much-needed image boost. The opposite occurred. My ego, small and unformed as it was, collapsed.
Two months earlier, my older sister Leslie, on the same campus as I, came one day to my dorm on Brookline Avenue. She was everything I was not. Beautiful with straight black hair, a pug nose models could only wish for, a 22-inch waist and pearly white teeth. Meanwhile, I often wondered if I was adopted, but the protrusion on my face told me otherwise.
“You know how you’ve always hated your nose?” she asked.
“I found a doctor, Dr. Veraztad Kasanjian, the father of plastic surgery,” she said. “He operated on the Hiroshima girls after World War II and is Arlene Francis’ uncle.”
“Arlene Francis from the TV show, “What’s My Line?” Wow! Wait a minute. Is my nose as bad as the noses shattered by the atomic bomb?”
She disregarded my comment.
“When he first came to the United States from Armenia, he needed to get an American medical degree. While at Harvard, they were teaching his technique. Pretty impressive, huh?”
I never said, “No” to Leslie. That day was no exception.
We went together to his office on Boylston Street. He looked like my eighty-year old, Eastern European grandfather. In a heavy, thick accent, he asked why I wanted to change a natural feature.
“This is a luxury,” he said. “Why would you want surgery if you don’t have to?”
“Doctor,” my sister responded for me, “For Ann, it’s a necessity.”
Good of her to answer for me. I was wondering what if he had a heart attack and fell over on me during surgery? Or, because he had such poor eyesight, he didn’t see what I saw when I looked straight ahead.
The operation was performed at Deaconess Hospital, walking distance from my school during our winter break in 1963. All was copasetic until 13 years later, when I was a never-been-married 31 year-old living alone and working in Manhattan for a small, commercial film production company. Saul, my boss, was a director with an artistic eye.
“Ann, you know I think you’re a terrific producer,” he said.
He rarely complemented me. Where was he going? I hoped he’d ask me out. Sitting at his desk in his safari khaki-colored jacket, he was a 39-year old, semi-divorced, short, bearded guy who, as he nonchalantly smoked his hand-rolled cigar and blew perfect rings in the air, added, “You’re an attractive woman, and this is none of my business, but…”
“Have you ever considered having your nose fixed? I would like to design it.”
I wanted to say it wasn’t broken. He had his own to worry about; what did he want with mine? Couldn’t anyone like me the way I am? But the truth was, although the results of my operation was better than the one I was born with, it had dropped, making it harder for me to breathe and gradually moving closer to the top of my upper lip.
He added, “I‘ll pay for it.”
He must care for me, I told myself.
A doctor at Manhattan Eye and Ear performed the revision surgery. It came out well. However, Saul took credit for it, as if he owned me. “Look at Ann,” he told clients and friends. “See what I created.” His comment was like an epiphany. There was no way I was going to be beholden to him. I paid him back and stopped working at the company six months later.
It took years of relationships and three careers before I recognized what had been so confusing before. Unlike Barbara Streisand, I had been looking at how others saw me, not how I saw myself. That notion changed. I was 41 when I found my Barbara. She never cared — and still doesn’t — whether my nose turned up or down. Married for two years, Barbara I have been together for nearly 30. She accepts me for who I am and loves me unconditionally. And, as my mother came to say, “At least she’s Jewish.”
Ann Jackowitz writes and lectures on issues surrounding social injustice, gender inequality, LGBT and minority women, fundraising, and breast cancer advocacy.