The radicalism of a real nose

6 December 2011

When I was a kid my sister and I spent hours combing through, and listening obsessively to, my mother’s small record collection. Somewhere in there was an album of Barbra Streisand’s that looked something like this (I can’t remember if this was actually the one): 

In other words, everything about the image told the viewer, I have a big nose, and I’m proud of it. Even as a child, without knowing the specific dynamics of antisemitism and cruel views of women’s bodies, I understood that she was making a radical statement. (And who could have been more radically glamorous during the ’60s and ’70s than Streisand?)

Yet in the decades since, a good nose has been hard to find. Cinema is a particularly disappointing place for us nose aficionados who want to find a nice range on actresses. I even found myself coming up with some slightly embarrassing Google searches, mostly for naught. I’d venture to say that Barbra’s was the last truly beautiful, authentic big nose onscreen; in the decades earlier, the only one I can think of was Margaret Hamilton’s (and she was cast as The Wicked Witch of the West):

It’s a sorry state of affairs. A few months ago I wrote about the eternal beauty of a mouth with character, but I think having a real nose is even more radical. (Shall I be hyperbolic? There’s a genocide of real noses in film!) I even became confused because I remembered certain actresses having slightly more distinctive noses than they really do — only to find websites alleging that these women have had very clever and subtle plastic surgery. Where are the women with beautiful, distinctive noses like tennis player Steffi Graf’s (a woman I still think of as one of the most beautiful women ever to play tennis?

I think of a big nose as impossibly sexy and sensuous; as far as I’m concerned noses can be very effective tools in the sack, functioning as extra appendages, and I’m not just talking about their capacity for sniffing. Can it possibly be true that the beautiful and waif-like Claire Danes, with her Steffi Graf-like Germanic face, had the size of her nose reduced? It’s so depressing. One website accuses Penelope Cruz, Anne Hathaway, and Jennifer Aniston of having big noses — absurd! — but one can see that with claims like that floating around, it’s no wonder women are so eager to have work done. No wonder the genocide is underway when plastic surgery is so easily obtained.

The same isn’t true for for male actors. Just think of a couple of my personal favorites, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson, who get piles and piles of work:

In fact, one of the funniest little bits of cultural referencing in recent film was Matt Damon’s disguise in Oceans’s 13, in which to seduce the gamine Ellen Barkin he donned a prosthetic nose he called The Brody:

If one digs deeper, one can find a few good noses. Vicki Lewis doesn’t get nearly enough work if you ask me, but she was great as the manic secretary on the old NewsRadio series and even more distinctive in the dramatic role in Pushing Tin (1999):

I’m telling ya, friends, it’s a sorry state of affairs. It’s bad enough that actresses have all manner of work done all the time — to make their breasts just a bit bigger, their butts a bit more luscious, their stomachs teeny. But we’ve been engaging in a war on great noses. No wonder we have epidemics of anorexia and plastic surgery among girls starting at age 11. You know what Barbra would say? I do:

Bring back the real nose. It’s a radical statement of identity and self-determination, not to mention ethnic pride and/or a willingness to see past superficial standards for female beauty. Wear your schnozz with pride.

47 Responses to “The radicalism of a real nose”

  1. I remember when I was a pre-teen my mom told me that Barbara Streisand didn’t get a nose job because it would have ruined her (super fantastic) singing voice. I wish that more singers had that sensibility.

  2. Holly Says:

    Thinking about the way that thinness and hairlessness mimic prepubescence — children have softer features too, no? Only cheekbones, and the chin to an extent, are supposed to be prominent on female celebs — because they indicate thinness?

    • Didion Says:

      Oh Holly, this is so interesting. I’d been thinking in much more simplistic terms — that women learn at every turn that their bodies are not quite right, and that they scrutinize every single part of their body, finding fault.

      But you bring up such a radical thought: that what we’re starting to idealize is not a woman’s face — with all its unusual nubbly-ness that make women so gorgeous and interesting — but babies: big lips, big eyes, teeny and unnoticeable noses, and, of course, hairless bodies and crotches. I feel I should have noticed this before — but count my mind blown.

  3. V Says:

    That’s Ellen Barkin, not Helen Hunt.

  4. Taci Says:

    Well, what about Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing. And I would say that Maryl Streeps nose is not an ordinary one.

    • Didion Says:

      You’re right — I totally forgot about Jennifer Gray. And what a gorgeous nose she’s got. BUT she had it fixed! She looks so much more generic now. It’s amazing how much it disappoints.

      I love Meryl Streep’s nose. And it really does look authentic, and goes so well with her long face. But I guess I think of it as long and elegant in the same way Norma Shearer’s nose was acquiline and perfect. I think I’d like to see more genuinely semitic noses like Barbra’s and Jennifer’s original nose, and more long and pointy ones like Steffi’s.

  5. Brandon Says:

    Lea Michele also refuses to undergo rhinoplasty. She apparently was inspired by Barbra to keep her nose as is.

    • Didion Says:

      You know, Brandon, I was thinking about women whose noses are like Lea’s — not big per se, but not teeny-tiny. And wondering whether many actresses get those reduced in size. Good for her in not falling for that one…because I imagine she’s surrounded by people who want to trim and Botox and alter her. (And didn’t one of those Glee actresses get a breast augmentation job? They even wrote it into the show!)

  6. […] course, alongside my posts calling for more real noses, unusual mouths, and real female athletes’ bodies, this one is hopelessly idealistic. But who […]

  7. andie Says:

    Canadian Actress Valerie Bulagiar (Roadkill, Highway 61) falls into the interesting nose and interesting mouth category.

  8. Andie Says:

    Ashlee Simpson was adorable before she had her nose done. I was very sad when I saw she went under the knife.

    • Didion Says:

      This is exactly what I’m talking about (had to google this one too, as I think I must’ve been deep in some kind of academic misery to have missed what was obviously a big deal). Look at how beautiful her nose was. And after? meh.

    • sungod64 Says:

      Yes, her nose was beautiful!

  9. Josh Says:

    How about Mayim Bialik?

    • Didion Says:

      Wow, great call — I had to google her because although she sounded familiar it’s just been a very long time since Blossom:

      • Josh Says:

        I “know” her from The Big Bang Theory. And from being interviewed several times in Vegetarian Times.

        Schozes are something I appreciate, but I wonder if we’re remiss in only praising the beauty of the European-variety schnoz. This thought has been troubling me, so I figured it might be worth sharing.

      • Didion Says:

        Well that teaches me for being completely out of it re: current TV.

        I’m totally with you on being ecumenical re: loving women’s noses of all ethnicities. But as far as I can tell, the few women who appear in film & TV who aren’t white often come from backgrounds not known for producing especially big noses. Black women can have broad noses and wide nostrils — and in our crazy world I’m sure they’re encouraged to have “a little” work done — but I haven’t seen the same kind of fanaticism about actually following through. (Maybe I’m wrong: I’m not really a follower of the who’s-had-plastic-surgery line of news.)

        Am I just being blind here? I see a lot of great women’s noses — more distinctive in Black women than Latinas or Asian women — but I don’t see them as necessarily “big”. Not that I have any doubt that little girls are encouraged to hate their own noses for being too broad or the nostrils too wide.
        the help

      • Josh Says:

        I think that’s a fair -enough assessment. I was just throwing it out there. I agree that other ethinicities may well be underrepresented, thus skewing our mental sample and indeed either have work done or be pre-selectedfor their conformity with the current standard of beauty. Also, in my book broad and long are both non-standard nose (though I admit to being slightly more drawn to long noses, since it’s a feature I can identify with personally) and maybe they qualify as big, too; Maybe not.

      • sungod64 Says:

        i never really noticed her nose,but six was awsome!

  10. Jenny G. Says:

    Well this article really puts a smile on my face;-)
    I have a “real” nose and so many times people have had snide, rude, childish comments. I have seen very young women alter and manipulate their bodies. Society has proved to me that many people fall victim to trend and tangibility. If they see it and find some insecurity or people point out a “flaw” they strive to manipulate their selves in order to satisfy society.

  11. […] open for actresses who break out of the ridiculously strict Hollywood standards when it comes to noses, mouths, body size, and other body parts so frequently adjusted by plastic surgeons. Now, […]

  12. JSA Lowe Says:

    How did I never comment on this? Probably because I don’t really have anything to add. Only as the proud possessor of a Real Nose™ I am always on the lookout for them onscreen and in photography. (My favorite film as a girl was Yentl, for obvious reasons.) And you did a beautiful job of collecting some of the finest ones here. Brava!

    • Didion Says:

      Let me also say that ever since writing this piece, I’ve been struck by how many real noses there are in British cinema — now, that’s a nation that can brag about a lot of proud women with prominent noses. They look awesome.

      Of all things, I noticed that this post has been linked to a comment thread for people considering or dealing with rhinoplasty. Every once in a while I go over there and see what they’re talking about — one person attested that he/she would not want to have Steffi Graf’s nose — but one can sense the palpable sense of ambivalence.

  13. Michal Says:

    I am so glad i found this. I was really beginning to feel like i’m going mad!
    I am also blessed with a nose that cannot be called small, and lately had experienced a true epiphany.

    I looked up ‘celebrity nose jobs’ on google, and was very surprised to find out that the amount of actors who had work done (on their nose) was much greater than i imagined.
    Which let me to the realization about big nose actresses. I find it simply insulting that big noses are being pushed out of our consciousness like some sort of epidemic.

    People are being brain washed with specific ‘rules’ for beauty, and its absolutely amazing in my opinion how blind people are to the problem. No big nose in movies! and i mean BIG! how is that possible? and if the big nose is present, it’s of course on the nerd character, or on the shy friend. come on.

    Thank you for making me feel like i’m not the only one who sees things as they are.

    • Didion Says:

      Yes! it’s like crooked teeth, which also became a thing of the past. Every once in a while I see a student with crooked teeth and I want to kiss them.

      The real world has a lot of real noses, and they grant dignity and elegance and character to a face. I wish Hollywood wasn’t so eager to erase all that character.

  14. rafa Says:

    Amazing post! I was also looking on google about actresses with real noses, and also was very disappointed with how few of them exist, given the real statistics. And if you look at these actresses who have mantained their big noses you notice almost all of them are very talented ones.
    As for myself, i have a nose which is very thin in front and aquiline in the profile. thank heavens i have it, because all the rest of my facial features are very feminine and delicate, and too much of a “barbie” look doesn’t match my personality at all. so, i’m a proud owner of a proeminent nose 🙂
    (forgive if my english is kind of clumsy, it’s my second language :P)

    • Didion Says:

      Your English is excellent — and many thanks for this comment! I have several new favorite female actress noses, including Rosemarie DeWitt, who was a prominent part of Mad Men‘s first season and is a star of the recent Your Sister’s Sister:

      Okay, never mind, I can’t figure out how to post images within comments (argh, WordPress). Suffice it to say that googling DeWitt will show off many images of her beautiful and distinctive real nose.

  15. rafa Says:

    Thanks, I’ll google her! It would be so nice if there were more “real” actresses – the performance is always more striking when the person is not concerned about how they look all the time.

  16. […] DeWitt does a great job as the depressive, withdrawn Hannah. And for those of you following my obsession with bringing back real women’s noses onscreen, just look at how DeWitt’s beautiful […]

  17. Thanks for this! I have a large German nose, though not quite as big as Steffi Graf’s. I was searching for hair advice for women with big noses and long faces, and I came across Gisele Bundchen & Sarah Jessica Parker. The advice is to have cheek or chin length hair, but these women both look fabulous in long wild hair. Did you forget about Laura Dern? When I saw her profile in Jurassic Park, I thought I was looking at myself! Brigette Fonda too!

  18. Maria Says:

    Cate Blanchett has a wonderful nose, Princess Letizia from Spain, was very interesting before her nose-job…

    • Didion Says:

      Indeed! I don’t know Letizia’s nose, but I’m starting to notice that a large number of European and English actresses have magnificent noses.

    • Julia Says:

      Agreed! I loved it and her lopsided smile, but then she got under the knife 😦

  19. […] why, it’s comments like these that make my blog so resoundingly esoteric. (See posts on noses, mouths, and teeth.) Esoteric it may be, but it’s my growing opinion that hair is an easy […]

  20. Sauri Says:

    Oh, your post comes in a very convenient time as it makes me feel cool for having a big Italian nose, which is a very uncommon feature in the place I’m from.
    And even though I always felt pretty out of place when growing up, lately I’ve been thinking about how by going under the knife you end up losing the things that make all people interesting and diverse. Just like personality, you can’t keep changing yourself until some assholes approve you so THEN you can finally approve yourself.

    This article made my day ❤

    • Didion Says:

      I work with a woman with a big hooked nose — she calls it her witch nose. And it’s spectacularly beautiful; it makes her look like an Persian goddess. She said that during high school people called her The Nose, but now men stop her in bars because she’s so unusual-looking. *Because* she hasn’t altered it she makes people wonder whether she’s some kind of international royalty.

      I’m certainly not in the business of telling people what to do. But I do believe that people need to celebrate the beautiful, nubbly things that make them different rather than make themselves more generic.

  21. Brandon Says:

    Did anyone mention Rossy de Palma (best known for her work in Pedro Almodovar’s movies)? Don’t forget about Nicki Minaj.

  22. Julia Says:

    Catherine Keener and Kristin Scott-Thomas have my two favorite female on screen noses. Men’s are Richard Armitage’s, Christian Bale’s and Adrien Brody (of course). Beautiful hooked and large noses. May they live long and inspire many.

  23. A Says:

    I really enjoyed this read, thank you for posting this. It gave me quite a bit of perspective and a little bit more of the confidence that I needed! I’ve always been a bit insecure about my nose but I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with it and your post definitely helped me understand that it doesn’t take away from the rest of my face, it just adds to it. I always have liked being different from people whether it’s having a different hairstyle, the way I dress, etc and having a “non-generic-hollywood-nose” adds to it 🙂

  24. I realise this blog post is an old one now, but I inadvertently stumbled upon it and I’m so glad I did! Hear hear! 😊

  25. JessicaM Says:

    What about Cher!? She got noticed by a fashion photographer, simply because of her stunning beauty WITH that nose! Again, so sad that icons like Cher go under the knife… Again and again.

  26. Lupita Says:

    Same here 🙂
    I’m so glad that people like you exist, helping girls realize that “different” can mean beautiful, not ugly.
    Thank you, thank you ❤

    P.S. Also spanish actress Maria Valverde has a gorgeous "non generic hollywood nose"

  27. Reblogged this on Commander Cookie Wolf and commented:
    Hear hear!

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