Every day. Since I was sweet 16. Or not-so-sweet 16…I’ve been lying.
Passively. And yet with every confident smile, I lie.
Until today. Today I’m just gonna say it.
Exactly 25 summers ago, at the seasoned age of 16, I made a life-defining decision. I decided to alter my divinely given face and have myself a nice discrete piece of plastic surgery. A nose job. I call it “Happy birthday Rhinoplasty Sweet 16”.
I see it as a Jewish ritual really. Like an inverted Bat-Mitzvah. A marking of Jewish identity through obscuring Jewish identity.
For at age 16 all I wanted to do was to obscure my Jewish identity. You see, I grew up impeccably assimilated in Memphis Tennessee. So puberty hit me with a special relentlessness as a Jewish girl in the deep South. I remember stepping into 7th grade, shell-shocked by this stunning pack of girls from the nearby Presbyterian Day School. Each one seemed to be more beautiful, more blond, more button-nosed, than the next. Forgive my sterotyping, but it was blatant and painful and the only type of typing I knew how to do.
I looked at them and then back at my newly emerging features in the mirror and simply wept at the widening chasm of difference that I saw before me. This whole ‘Jewish thing’ that had only peripherally defined me before was now suddenly taking over my face…entirely. I saw it like a devastation, a spreading disease.
So as soon as my parents would allow, I simply jumped out of that disease. Escaped the dissonance. Did away with the evidence and blended my face back in to the bright beautiful Southern-belle crowd.
And it was effective. I clawed my way through that crowd to be crowned Homecoming Queen by sweet 18. And then off to college. I remember joining this celebrated female comedy troupe at the University of Pennsylvania. ‘Bloomers’. A whopping 80% of us Bloomers were Jewish and 80% of us had undergone that same plastic ritual.
And it is comical after all. We were some of the school’s most confident and self-expressed young women. All of us up there killin’ it on the stage. An uproarious, indecorous, quick-witted clan of sisters. And yet, just a few years prior we were a tortured bunch of insecure pre-teens. Woefully unable to suffer through the sight of our own G-d-given visage in the mirror.
Talk about a comedy. Nose jobs…what a joke. A trope. A cliche. Lox and bagels and nose jobs. The laughable sum of my Jewish identity. Comical is the way I usually held it…if I held it all.
Though usually I didn’t hold it. And still don’t. I just hush it. Tight. A lethally tight hush.
For me, there are few things more painful than talking about electively altering my face.
Which just sucks. It literally sucks. It sucks my energy. As any therapist knows, secret-keeping siphons away precious energy like no other thing. And I’m done with that drain.
So here I am. Eager to up and release all that pent up shame. Here you go world. Take my truth and all its awkward funk. Judge me, pity me, join me, welcome me, whatever me. I embrace the cleansing power of a public purge…and thank you for the compassionate witnessing. Feels good to check that one off of my bucket list.
*But Why Now?
Why share this now, you might ask…
Well, because my daughters. Those precious flowers. Those gorgeous picturesque little females. I can’t help but think that they are about to get trampled by the trashing hooves of puberty.
They sit here so innocently on the verge of growing in to their own bodies, their own faces, replete with imperfect features and unknown futures. And there’s a sliver of me that is quite frankly – and frantically – terrified for them.
Mostly because I myself wasn’t able to get through those body changes unscathed. I wasn’t able to shoulder through all that epic pubescent embarrassment without a quick escape beneath the surgeon’s blade.
I am sharing this now because I think it will help me be a better mother. And a more worked-through person. I took a high flying escape route out of authenticity but I want to go back and reclaim those long lost pieces of emotional baggage instead. For me, for them. I want to hold and honor and bear through those pieces with grace.
So here’s my plan for getting through my kids puberty…hopefully with them coming out unscathed.
- Model Authenticity: I’m going to try to be real, with myself and with you and with my kids. That starts NOW with the admittedly unsettlingly exposure of this article. And it extends into all my interactions and gesticulations. I commit to strive for relentless truth-telling. To admit my faults and failings and imperfections just as openly and eagerly as my strengths. Living in AuthentiCity!
- Encouragement: I hope to do some serious unconditional love with these kids. Replete with maternal listening, positive reflection and ‘Be Yourself’ encouragement. I’ve been practicing since their sonograms.
- Giving Space: I am going to remember every time I get ‘beauty-triggered’: ‘This is THEIR path to walk.’ This is their journey, their face, their story. I hope to keep easy flowing faith that they will get through this and grow through this as befits their highest unfolding.
- Environment control: Now here is my own social experiment of becoming religious and replanting my family tree in the soil of our ancestors. – I will admit it, I have chosen a religious lifestyle largely because of the turbulence of my own secular teenage years. I desperately want to spare my children the turmoil and social pressures that I staggered my way through in high school. I am sending them to all girls schools and raising them in religious environments where boy-crazy dating and teenage sex is simply not done.
Clearly they will have their own tests of teenage tumult. I have no delusions that raising my children religious will protect them from any and all harm. I know that the religious world has its own set of wildly disturbing ‘mishugas ‘ and I pray they can navigate through that muck as well.
But at the very least, I know the pitfalls of my upbringing all too well and will do my darndest to protect them from that to the best of my parental abilities. This parenting thing is one big laboratory. It’s a work in progress. Give me 10 years and I will keep you posted how the ‘religious experiment’ goes.
5. Re-Envisioning Jewish Beauty: Here is a question for all of us. What defines beauty anyway? Can I free myself of the inculcated standards of my youth? Who would I be if I had kept my face the way the good Lord intended it…the way my good genes and heritage gifted it? I will never meet the person with that face…but I tend to think that she is a bit deeper, realer and more uniquely beautiful than I am today. I mourn the loss of her presence from my life. But I welcome in the unique beauty that my daughters will bear. I hope to see glimmers of the girl I lost in their unscathed faces. I welcome their unique beauty just the way it is meant to be. If it be Big-nosed. Big-souled. Big-mouthed. Big-breathed. I welcome it.
I pray that this article helps to pave the way for a new set of beauty musings and standards for our girls. Standards that present a more apt fit to our natural gifts and natural charm. May we women claim it – for ourselves & for our girls. No scalpels and plastic next time, please. And no more lying from me.