I was recently struck by a piece on Refinery 29 titled “Why I’ll Never Regret My Nose Job” because I spent many years of my adolescence despising my own non-bunny-slope nose. I’ve since developed a genuine appreciation for it, but it took a lot of self-loathing and introspection along the lines of “what really makes a person beautiful” to get there. Though insecurities are inescapable on some level, this one rarely, if ever, registers with me these days, which is surprising considering how heavy a burden I once found it to be. Being so caught up with surface features is quite literally superficial, but I don’t believe anyone is immune to such concerns, and I think it’s nearly impossible to fully evade them.
I do, however, feel that there are deeper messages to be unearthed from our fixations on physicality—but they’re not quite as simple as your run of the mill “beauty is on the inside, love yourself and it will shine through” jibber-jabber that is so common in self-help literature today.
I’ve never seriously considered plastic surgery myself, despite feeling so repulsed by my own face at age twelve that I would attempt to cover my nose with long bangs (because that looked totally normal). I always felt very strongly that I needed to learn to come to terms with my imperfections, and hopeful that one day I would. I knew lots of beautiful people who were not born via cookie cutter molds. I found their faces more interesting, frankly. As such, my youthful conviction not to ever go under the knife caused me to view any women who did take that route in a harsh light. I perceived it as some sort of cop out from life—an inability to grow a thicker skin.
But I’ve since learned that women who try to act as authorities on how other women are living their lives (usually in a twisted attempt at feminism) are rarely doing the overall cause (women’s empowerment and rights) any favors. If plastic surgery is a choice that will better your life, then I support that endeavor—after all, we only have this life, so if you have the means to make what you believe to be a positive change, you certainly should. And anyways, my sensing weakness in such a decision wasn’t really accurate—it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge to anyone (even if it’s just your family or a surgeon) that you aren’t happy with some facet of yourself. Constant confidence is our societal ideal, and when it falters, it’s hard not to feel as if we’ve failed.
That being said—I took issue with Goli Shirazi’s piece. It wasn’t the subject matter that bothered me—as I’m sure she genuinely doesn’t regret her decision, nor do I think she should—but I found a lot of her self-reflection on the matter to be fluffy and vapid. It made me uncomfortable, and I found it insulting to women as a whole. The greatest flaw is that she doesn’t explore any other option—there is no room for what might have happened if she hadn’t gotten the nose job. This resigns any potential for self-confidence with an imperfect nose to black-hole territory. What I took away from it was: when feeling insecure, all roads lead to plastic surgery. Instead, I think the message that should be spelled out more clearly to women (especially young women) is one grounded in the various routes you can take. Though she rightfully states that it’s a decision to be taken with lots of care, it’s hard to keep that in mind as she harps on how a nose job “allowed her to be more fully [her]self.” The ending especially throws me for a loop when she writes, rather opaquely:
Today, if someone tells me I’m beautiful, I can confidently respond, “Thank you” — because I know what that person sees is truly viewed through beautiful eyes. Because it is not my nose (or my lips, nor my eyes) that they are seeing, but rather the inner glow that emanates from my peacefulness within.
It’s not clear how other people’s eyes have become more beautiful as a result of her nose job, but the implication in the first line (that her nose job has finally allowed her to accept compliments regarding her features) contradicts the second line which tries to assert that what people are really pointing out is some vague inner beauty that has arisen post-plastic surgery. It’s the stuff of fairytales—a cloying endnote that sounds self-reflective and deep but is actually quite hollow. If I was a reader less prone to seeking out flaws in the writing, or just very easily persuaded, the takeaway would be that now that she’s changed her nose, people can really see her for who she is. This is a dangerous message. She asserts that plastic surgery was the ONLY way for her to stop focusing on the shallow stuff—the one option she had for really knowing herself and introducing herself to the world.
I’d like to offer another path for everyone’s consideration, one whose rewards are clearer to me than what’s offered in her article:
Sit with your discomfort and your supposed ugliness. Let yourself really feel it. Feel it so deeply that you want to cry and vomit when you look in the mirror. Let it suffocate you, if it has to. Explode for a bit—overreact. And in time, I can assure you…you will come down from that seemingly awful place. You will look in the mirror and see yourself stuck in the shallowest of shallow ends, and you will hate that person more than you hate the bump in your nose, the curve of your hips, or the points on your ears. You will yearn to change what you value most in yourself and other people (i.e. swapping almighty appearance for something more worthwhile). The process will be slow, but you’ll start searching for the “pretty parts” of yourself that aren’t tangible, and you’ll find them—everyone has something. You’ll feel stronger. You’ll get a solid sense of humanity’s ridiculousness, its apparent unfairness, how frustratingly intoxicated we all can be with many of the ‘wrong’ things (looks, fame, money). But you can’t learn any of these things as easily if you just try to press a reset button, if you just get rid of the surface problem. You may miss an amazing opportunity for growth (which, yes, can moonlight as self-hatred) that has been part of adolescence for thousands of years.
I don’t want to negate the opportunity for growth in a life with plastic surgery, but in Shirazi’s specific case, the self-confidence she now has still feels entirely routed to her nose. It worries me that plastic surgery may stifle a person’s ability to look past the surface features. Though she wants to believe otherwise, it seems as though Shirazi implicitly believes that her nose job is what changed the way people see her. This is because she sees her changed nose as the gateway to her inner confidence, not the introspection that the insecurity and subsequent learning period might have caused. Conversely, without changing mine, I learned that my nose meant little to nothing to most people, because what people deeply value about me is wholly unrelated to my exterior.