Ethnic plastic surgery

I try not to read the comments on articles about cosmetic surgery. People are always yelling. They are always disgusted and horrified. They are always saying things like “then what?” If you are willing to do that to yourself, than what else are you willing to do? What’s next? A clone army? Vanity babies that are genetically manipulated to look like your favorite Sports Illustrated bikini model? Anything could happen.

Sometimes I forget I got plastic surgery. I don’t feel like someone who would do it. I don’t look like someone who did it. It’s easy not to think about it.

The New York Times is talking about how, most notably in New York City,  there are ethnically preferred cosmetic surgery procedures. Like, Italian women get knee fixes and Dominicans get butt lifts and Koreans get their jaws thinned. What was interesting, the article implied, was that the Long Island  women were getting their butts reduced while the Washington Heights women were getting theirs enhanced. In other words, cosmetic surgery is no longer just about fitting into your adopted culture (as it often was for Jews and Irish and blacks), it’s about fitting into your ethnic group.

That is interesting.

Maybe it’s good news about race-relations in the U.S. But it’s the same news about beauty. Sometimes you feel so left out of whatever the standard is, you have to change yourself to feel like you belong. And there is always a standard. The movies you see, the people you’re around, the things you read and overhear, the other girls who are called pretty and sexy and beautiful, all influence your idea of beauty.

People always describe cosmetic surgery like it’s a whim for the women who get it. It’s the equivalent of a really expensive new handbag, rather than the painful result of years of insecurity. Maybe for some women, it really is a whim. And I don’t have any moral objections to that, either. But it seems a little unlikely, to casually pour so many resources into procedures that are known to be incredibly uncomfortable, at least a little stigmatized, and time consuming (weeks off of work, up to a year to heal completely). Maybe many of the women who choose cosmetic surgery feel like they’ve already tried everything else. Like they’re exhausted. Like they just want to somehow fit in.

It always sounds frivolous, because we’re talking about beauty, and beauty sounds superficial and meaningless to so many people. Especially people who write seriously on serious social issues. But appearances have been proven over and over again to dictate, dominate, and even predict people’s options and opportunities. And meeting or failing to meet standard attractiveness (regardless of what that standard happens to be) can define a woman’s life.

Even the Jewish women who were described as beautiful had small noses. In fact, every single woman I understood to be considered beautiful as a kid had a small nose. Or at least not an especially large one.  I internalized the message that having a small nose was critical to being a successful woman.

I felt so old-school, reading the New York Times piece. Am I one of the last Jews to try to physically assimilate? I’m as American as I am Jewish. Probably more so, if you can measure these things. In my pale-skinned, Ashkenazic culture, it’s hard to even tell which standards are “really Jewish” and which have been adopted. There’s no such thing as cultural purity. I wonder if that’s also true for the other ethnic groups described in the article.

The other day, in a thrift store in Brooklyn, I heard a guy say to his friend, “So what’s your type?”

The second guy said, “Definitely buxom Jewish women.”

“Oh yeah? Is that a thing for Jewish women?”

” Yeah, it’s totally a thing. That’s how they look.”

Well, I thought, that’s not how I look. There’s another marker of Jewish beauty that I don’t fit. Which is a little annoying. Because when you’re already different, you want to at least be beautiful and different. You want to be the best of the different.

But I’m not willing to get breast enhancement surgery. It’s been a couple years since I got my nose done, and enough is enough. I’ve learned that I’ll never meet the standard of American beauty, just as I’ll never meet the standard of American Jewish beauty. But it isn’t as depressing a realization as I expected it would be. Someone always has to start changing the standard. So I volunteer myself. Plus, it’ll save me money. I think there’s another stereotype about Jews that has something to do with that?

(What a city! We have everything! source)

*  *  *

Un-roast: Today I love the way I look in any dress I just bought from a thrift store.

Guest post from a really smart dad about the Montessori schools, over at Un-schooled.

This post also appears on the Huffington Post here today.

17 Comments »

Kate on February 23rd 2011 in beauty, being different, body, nose

17 Responses to “Ethnic plastic surgery”

  1. Liz Nord responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    I read that article yesterday and found it to be quite disturbing. I was talking with my husband about writing a blog post about it when my nine-year old daughter asked, “What’s the difference between a haircut and plastic surgery?” Uhh, your hair grows back… But still, she got me thinking about where the line is drawn between enhancing what you already have vs. creating something new to try to fit in to the idealized “standards of beauty”. Hmm.

  2. Deanna responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Best blog yet. You have no idea how well I understand what u are saying. Like u I am also Jewish, but I don’t fit any stereotype of a Jewish woman either looks, personality or upbringing. I also can remember when I’d bring a friend home with me and my parents would say ‘oh she’s so pretty’ and then wondered if anyone said that about me. Or when men would discuss their type and I never ever fit that description.

    I do see why women have work done. I also see how it can often be a losing battle because women like me who suffer from low ‘beauty self esteem’ cannot be fixed with a nose or boob job.

    I’ve noticed that women who have been told all their lives by men that they are desirable and beautiful. Ten to have higher self esteem. I was never told that and although I have my own business, a great education, beautiful children….I don’t think I am capable of ever believing I am beautiful. Because I know this….I won’t go the plastic surgery route as I know it won’t help. I do, however, understand women who do.

  3. Vivi @ My.Beautiful.Air responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    I live in Buenos Aires – the plastic surgery capital of the world, and seeing how commonplace plastic surgery is down here really scares me!! I think you are right about women wanting to fit into their ethnic groups (for example a latina woman is expected to be voluptuously curvy, and simultaneously very thing – something rare i.m.o.) Boob jobs and butt implants are become a right of passage.
    I think real beauty comes from the inside, as sophomoric as that sounds, but I can’t tell you how many “beautiful” plastic women I’ve seen here who are super ugly. I’m glad you’re keeping your real breasts. There isn’t enough press on how dangerous plastic surgery really is. I think people really need to consider the consequence of going under the knife for the sake of vanity.
    In the end plastic surgery is just a symptom of this worldwide phenomena of our inability to love ourselves.

  4. San D responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    Growing up as a mix between a Jewish father and a German Protestant mother, I was always classified as “Jewish”, although we never celebrated or participated in any religion. I definitely look like my father’s side of the family, but as a “mutt” of sorts, I didn’t get the nose, but got the curly hair and the other stereotypical traits (smart, funny, love to eat, love to laugh). My sister who looks like my mother’s side of the family got the blond hair, but my father’s nose, and she picked up the “Germanic” traits (she takes charge, controls, but is also smart and funny, and has a take it or leave it attitude with food). Never for once did I think about how to change my looks, but I grew into them. I am a bit of a chameleon and if you want me to be “Jewish” to fit your needs, I will break out in Yiddish and trade inside information. My point? Very few of us get out of this life unscathed. We can dwell on the definitions that have been heaped our way, or we can grow into them, and embrace our differences. I do have to laugh though, because as I get older I am morphing into Momodad, a definite likeness to both my parents.

  5. Ilana responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Wow. Didn’t know that article existed until now but it really makes sense to me. I am Jewish as well and most of the time whenever I tell people they don’t believe me because I “don’t look Jewish”. Uhhh, what? Both my parents and their parents and pretty much everyone from all the way back that I can trace has been 100% Jewish. Apparently my nose isn’t large enough and, because I use to straighten my hair more often, my hair wasn’t curly enough to look like a “real” Jew.

    I also think looking Jewish is a double standard.

    Women who are Jewish in Hollywood (Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, etc.) don’t have the traits that are stereotypical of Jewish women. I can hardly think of any Jewish female actresses that do. Many of them change their last names to non traditional Jewish ones, and several get nose jobs and straighten their hair if they do have those characteristics.

    But male Jewish actors who look Jewish are often embraced to look so. Actors like Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody are examples of this.

  6. Kate responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    @Ilana
    Good point. It’s frustrating to be told I look Jewish (in the “bad” way. i.e. big nose) and look around and not see other Jewish women who look like me. And simultaneously not look Jewish in the “good” way. It IS a double standard. It’s tiresome.

  7. Mandy responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    When I was younger, the idea of getting anesthetized and cut for the sake of vanity revolted and bewildered me. I swore I would never risk my life for the sake of looking better.
    Now that I’m in my forties, I’m not quite so arrogant. I like my salt and pepper hair, and the nascent crows feet around my eyes. But I don’t like the way my face has started to sag, ever so slightly. So have “the girls,” one of my two physical features I’m genuinely vain about (the other is my eyes.)
    This culture places an unrealistically high value on youth and beauty, so seeing the signs of loss of both in my appearance disturbs me. It’s also clued me in on exactly how deeply I’ve been brainwashed into attaching my worth to my appearance.
    Quite frankly, it really ticks me off.
    I still don’t think I’d ever get cosmetic surgery just to look younger or thinner, or perkier.
    But I think I do understand a bit better why another person might. And all those disgusted and horrified people commenting on that other blog might not be yelling so loudly in about ten years or so…

  8. Deanna responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    That seems true abbot Latin women. I find their concerns via beauty intimidating. They all want to look lime that actress on Modern Family…large chested, curvy, thick glossy hair, gorgeous face…the bar is too high. I had a student lime that…almost as if she had been designed by a man…made everyone in the class feel unattractive.

  9. Tweets that mention Eat the Damn Cake » Ethnic plastic surgery -- Topsy.com responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 8:50 pm #

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  10. Jess responded on 23 Feb 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    My mother is Jewish (Eastern European mix, really) and my father is Italian. I had a “nose job” when I was 16, but it could not have been for more non-cosmetic reasons. Everyone claims deviated septum. Mine was the worst my first ENT had ever seen, and I had lived my whole life as a mouth breather with an abbreviated sense of smell. Medically, it was the best decision I ever made, because both of those things got fixed.

    But cosmetically, my doctor took a little off the top. Even though I said I didn’t want him to. Demanded he didn’t. But it would appear he knew best. Because you’re still growing at 16, I have no idea what my nose would have looked like. (Besides crooked. It definitely looked unhealthy in a dangerously off-centered way, but certainly not too big or too bumpy.) I have such a small bridge that my glasses fall down all the time now.

    Its been a bit of an identity struggle, but I’m usually pretty zen about “this is the face I have now”. But sometimes, I can’t help but wonder. I don’t mind looking “Jewish”, as my hair can’t help but announce to the world. What I really want is to look like me.

  11. independentclause responded on 24 Feb 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Pretty is a kind of conformity. I think people underrate charisma. I’m not pretty and never have been. But I look “interesting,” (Jewish) and I’m funny and smart. That’s worth a thousand face lifts.

  12. Lovely Links: 2/25/11 responded on 25 Feb 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    [...] during last week’s discussion about cosmetic surgery and physical alterations, Kate describes cosmetic surgery as an extreme step toward physical assimilation. And she speaks as someone who has gotten a nose [...]

  13. MWN responded on 25 Feb 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    yay, you finally got to check out the thrift stores in Brooklyn! What did you think?

  14. Kate responded on 28 Feb 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    @MWN
    I fell in love. And was also pretty overwhelmed. There were a lot of clothes to choose from.

  15. dee responded on 26 Sep 2011 at 5:49 am #

    @Ilana Ugh, that’s so racist. Why are you emulating the attitude of the people who you say make comments about your Jewishness? It seems Jewish is the only ethnic group on the planet where people who are 100% of that group are regularly told (by racists) that they “don’t look it”, despite the fact that it’s also one of the most homogoneous groups on earth. Apparently Jewish hollywood actors and actresses have to be divided into whether or not something thinks they look it or not (let me guess, the ugly ones do, the good looking ones don’t), while WASPs are simply good looking or ugly on their own merits. No one ever says that William H. Macy “looks WASP” but Brad Pitt “doesn’t”, even though I imagine most WASP men do not look like Brad Pitt. And of the actors you mentioned, Schwartzman and Brody aren’t even fully Jewish. How about full Jews like Logan Lerman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Paul Rudd, Andrew Garfield, etc.

  16. Florence Knight responded on 11 Aug 2012 at 2:10 am #

    excellent!

  17. fabions responded on 06 Jan 2013 at 3:46 am #

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