I’ve always known that my mom was pretty.
I know this because one of every 10 passersby stops to let her know she resembles Jennifer Aniston. I also know this because I spent my childhood looking up at her in adoration, noticing her tan freckled skin, blonde hair, and hazel eyes that appear either green or blue depending on the light. She has smooth legs that only really look “hairy” if you catch the sun reflecting off her thin blonde wispies at just the right angle, and her Malibu Barbie quality is topped off with a button nose with the curvature of a gentle ski slope. For years, I cursed whatever god was up there for not making me in her image. Girls who looked like me, an Eastern European mutt with a downturned “hook” nose, were always the sidekicks, the not-as-cute best friends, the TERF-invented goblins, or the evil witches. I felt not quite right … in need of a few tweaks.
In my mid-twenties, two decades of Jewish big nose propaganda already sunk too deep into my pores, I marched myself into a plastic surgeon’s office and left with purple tick marks up and down and across my schnoz. The surgeon would later make an incision across the columella, that little fleshy bit between your nostrils, and two more incisions inside each nostril, so he could lift up the hood of the car, exposing all of me—what’s missing, what’s blocking my nasal passages, and what’s making me appear, as he phrased it, “un-enhanced.” I left with my own perfect, albeit swollen ski slope—fit for a happy, fair-skinned gentile family of five on holiday. Better, I thought. Prettier.
No one ever told me that my big nose, specifically, was beautiful the way it was. That’s why when Bobbi Brown, a beauty brand owner, renowned makeup artist, and the founder of beauty brands Bobbi Brown Cosmetics and Jones Road Beauty, posted a video on TikTok last week telling young users to stop contouring their noses, I paused. She said “nose:” the big toucan in the room that brands who’d embraced the body and body hair positivity movements wouldn’t touch.
In the video, Brown, who is Jewish, responds to the TikTok user:
“Why would you want to contour your nose? I think your natural face is your most beautiful face … When I was a kid my mother offered me a nose job. Clearly, I didn’t get it. I embrace who I am, I want everyone to embrace who they are, and use makeup to make you feel better about yourself. Just give yourself a glow. Stop contouring your nose! You don’t need it!”
Brown told Jezebel that she knew she was never “classically beautiful” (or, what we know recognize as a narrow version of beauty defined by heteronormative, Eurocentric standards), but was “floored” when her mother told her that she’d be even more “gorgeous” with a nose job. “I had never focused on that part of me,” Brown said in an email. “I’m glad I never did it, and I learned slowly how to be more comfortable with what I really looked like instead of what I could never be.”
In a time where young people are addicted to social media platforms that kill their self-confidence, and antisemitic acts are once again on the rise, I was relieved to hear this sort of “nose positivity” from someone with such a massive beauty platform. Brown, who has been speaking out against the idea of “downplaying” specific features for years and has long been regarded as an outlier in the industry, told Jezebel she was technically trained to use theatrical make-up to either emphasize or de-emphasize every feature on the face. As for noses? “I just realized that the nose just looked like it fit perfectly on the face as is,” Brown said.
While that advocacy has proved imperative within an industry that largely profits off of young women’s insecurities, the needle has moved only slightly in favor of highlighting beautiful, big-nosed girls, failing to gain any meaningful steam. In 2018, freelance journalist Rahdika Sanghani tried to break the stigma by starting a social media campaign called #SideProfileSelfie, calling herself a “big nose queen.” On Instagram, several communities like “BIG NOSE POSITIVITY” celebrate all the best beaks, and on TikTok, users have hopped on a trend showing their side profiles and mentioning their ethnic background with pride. Such online micro movements brought awareness to the grandeur of all powerful, multicultural noses: Despite antisemitic depictions of prominent noses as undesirable Jewish traits, large noses also star on the faces of women with origins ranging from Europe and India to Africa and the Middle East.
For Bobbi Brown, the face that changed everything was Ali McGraw’s in Love Story. Brown was impressed by McGraw’s natural beauty, her dark hair, and her strong brows. She grew up admiring iconic strong noses on Hollywood power players like Barbra Streisand, Cher, and Meryl Streep and began to find the value in looking different, rather than trying to look like everyone else.
“Hollywood is still not as inclusive as it should be, and there’s been a well-publicized reckoning around that. Yet look at women like Sarah Jessica Parker, Uma Thurman, Julia Roberts, and Amal Clooney,” Brown noted. “They are powerful, beautiful women ... with strong noses. Enough said.”
Even with today’s strong-nosed idols like House of Gucci duo Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, physical conformity in popular culture still dominates representation. While rhinoplasties have fallen by almost 9% between 2000 and 2020, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, rhinoplasty is still the most popular cosmetic procedure amongst women patients, who comprise 92% of all cosmetic procedures. Having grown up with surgical transformation shows like The Swan and Extreme Makeover, and now with pretty filters and influencers who happily flaunt the lengths they’ve gone to optimize what they were born with, it seems near impossible to avoid engaging with the beauty and cosmetics industry without also engaging in extreme flaw-correcting. The global cosmetics market, which is expected to keep climbing, is proof: estimates say it’ll hit over $415 billion by 2028, as young people, disproportionately women, continue to iron out the ethnic features that make us individuals in favor of paper doll sameness.
There’s undeniable nuance in the idea of self-expression, however, and Brown knows that. Women have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies—whether that’s experimenting with neon turquoise eyeliner or undergoing cosmetic procedures if they have the means—and to make those matters public knowledge on their own terms. The more young people are made aware of America’s hand-me-down preferences, the more they’ll be able to decipher whether paying for rhinoplasty is truly a remedy for happiness, or just a temporary band-aid on a deeper cultural disdain for big noses. “At least with makeup, you can experiment and wash it off,” Brown muses. “Surgery is not erasable, so think hard and deep before you do it.”
It makes sense, then, why Brown’s message is sorely needed. Though, for some hook-nosed generations, myself included, the damage has already been done. I don’t regret going under the knife, and I encourage young people to do whatever feels right to them. At the time, rhinoplasty felt like the right decision for me, and I did feel ... prettier. I just hope that the root definition of “pretty” changes for the next generation: that pretty will someday mean “authentic” or “individual,” rather than “physically attractive to a small group of powerful white men who are interested in controlling both the appearance and the functionality of women’s bodies.”
Outside of bright spots like Brown, the larger beauty industry continues to play into the idea that “big” or “wide” noses (if not fixed by surgery) can be “fixed” by using makeup to create optical illusions. Brown, to her credit, is doing everything she can to reverse the centuries-long discrimination against us big-nosed girlies, but she’s just one individual, drowned out by a sea of brands prioritizing an exhausting cycle of trends over individuality. We’re only at the tippity-tip of the nose here and I look forward to a world in which my future daughter’s self-confidence can protrude just as loudly as her big ass, beautiful nose.