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.