“Rachel (not her real name) looks great doesn’t she?”
“Well of course she had her nose done.”
It is Shabbos afternoon. Lunch at the Avrech home. Offspring #3 has three friends over for the Shabbos meal, and so counting Karen and OS #3 there are 5 girls and one male — me.
There are moments in life that are so perfect there is no way they could have been planned.
I sit back and I’m pretty sure that I do not stop smiling for the entire meal. Why? Because as far as the girls are concerned I might as well be invisible. They are so deeply involved in their conversation, the give and take is so rapid, steeped in such teenage shorthand that I have to concentrate hard to extract every level of meaning as the sentences fly past at the speed of light.
I feeel like the anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss among some primitive Brazilian tribe. Except this tribe is Jewish Yeshiva teenagers who wear Juicy, and D&G. Yet a few of them also daven, pray, with the kind of fervor that just breaks your heart, and if you think they’re just bratty materialistic girls you are very wrong for all of them have spent the summer performing one amazing charity project of one kind or another.
But the topic at hand is nose jobs.
Me, I thought that Rachel did look different, better. Naive male that I am I just naturally assumed that she outgrew her awkward stage and just, you know, flourished.
A lot I know.
Or as my mother Z”L would have said: “She grew into her face.”
By the way, does that ever happen?
But here’s the thing about this conversation that is so revealing. The girls are not making fun of the girls who have had nose jobs. The opposite. They are relieved. They are genuinely happy for them.
The central feeling is one of simple generosity and it boils down to this: the young women were miserable because their noses were either too big or crooked and now, post-surgery, well now they’re so much happier. And it’s not as if the nose jobs are all that radical. Each friend they discuss has had surgery that suits them. Every nose job is appropriate, subtle.
There is a whole world of Jewish nose job jokes. You can fill shelves with novels and short stories that have been written on the subject. There is more than a little bit of self-loathing in this culture. Take a look at the work of Philip Roth and writers of his generation. Their work fairly drips with contempt for Jewish women in general, and in particular for Jewish women who dare to try and be more beautiful.
Thank G-d, those days are over. Modern observant girls are confident and sassy and have absolutely no qualms about improving their looks.
I sit at the Shabbos, Sabbath lunch table and watch in amazement as the girls rock with laughter and compare noses.
“Where do you get your nose, are you adopted?”
“You’re sooooo lucky, you’ve got a ski slope nose.”
“I’ve got a little button, I wish it were just a little bigger.”
“I want a nose job.”
“No, your nose is perfect!”
Karen asks me if maybe she should do something with her nose.
I answer with real honesty.
“You’re the most beautiful woman I have ever known. You’re nose is perfect.”
Karen smiles, starts clearing off the table, but she stops at a mirror and gravely studies her reflection for a few seconds.
No matter what any male says, it is women who are their own harshest critics. And in the end I suspect that women alter their looks more for themselves than for the approving gaze of any man.
Karen adds: When Robert told me he wanted to write about the contempt in post war literature for Jewish women who had nose jobs, I didn’t relate to it. Now, after reading his comments I realize there is an element Robert neglected to write about that is totally foreign to the current generation.
Women of the fifties were mocked for wanting to look “less Jewish.” It was related to ideas of anti-Semitism, that thank goodness are totally alien to our girls. They simply want to be more beautiful, and are not hiding their Jewishness.
Of course, there are those who will argue that we have adopted the WASP standards of beauty. However, If you raised this point to our teenagers they would look at you in complete bewilderment, having absolutely no idea what you are talking about.