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Should I have a nose job? Teenage tales from the wild world of rhinoplasty 

Tami Sussman
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Should I have a nose job? Teenage tales from the wild world of rhinoplasty 

Published: 5 December 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

TAMI SUSSMAN remembers when she hated her nose and seriously thought about having it fixed. Today she takes a more benign view of imperfection.

I remember the exact moment I first became concerned about the shape of my nose.  I was in Year 10 and a boy at the same Jewish high school told me I had the “best hooked nose” he’d ever seen. Confused as to whether I’d been given a compliment or not, I relayed the comment to my mother in the car on the drive home. Mum’s jaw dropped. “What’s a hooked nose?” I asked, urgently. 

Buying time, Mum proceeded to tell me that she had a straight nose, my best friend had a button nose and my older sister had our nanna’s nose. “And who has a hooked nose?” I pushed. “Your father,” Mum replied. 

I started to hyperventilate. 

My father’s schnoz resembled the prominent Jewish nose caricatured in the Nazi propaganda I had studied in Jewish History class. 

“I have a f***ing hooked nose?!” I gasped. Mum put her hand on my leg, “It’s hooked but it’s not big. Yours is a beautiful hooked nose.” 

For the record, I appreciated my mother’s compassionate brand of honesty. One might even call her response mild when compared to other teenage girls’ experiences. 

My friend Talia’s mother was the first to point out that her nose was far from ideal and instigated rhinoplasty when she was in high school. Having had a nose job herself when she was a teenager, Talia’s mum “strongly encouraged it. She really really wanted me to get it done. She thought I'd be happier.”

Talia hesitated at first, not wanting to “be Jappy (aka Jewish princess) or conform to societal norms” but when she turned 16, Talia started to feel more self-conscious and told her mum she wanted to have the surgery. “Pretty much the next day Mum had called the surgeon because she was so excited and so worried that I would change my mind.” 

"the next day Mum called the surgeon because she was so worried I would change my mind."

My friend Cara’s mum didn’t flinch when her plastic surgeon tried to upsell them cosmetic jaw surgery as part of the rhinoplasty package. It was Cara, a 16-year-old herself, who had to toe the line. “Just the nose job please.” 

This was the wild wild west of what I’ve now coined “The Nose Job Nineties and Noughties”, when minors arrived back at my school after the summer holidays with a new celestial nose and bruises under their eyes. They’d throw around the words “deviated septum” when everyone knew their intentions were mostly aesthetic. 

These days, most plastic surgeons (not to be confused with cosmetic surgeons whose training is typically shorter and less comprehensive than that of plastic surgeons) won’t operate on cosmetic rhinoplasty candidates until they’re 18 years old.

In July this year, new nationwide rules and regulations were put in place so that minors considering any cosmetic surgery must pass multiple checkpoints, such as a referral from a GP, psychological assessment, two consultations and a three-month cooling off period. 

Plastic surgeons such as Dr Justine O’Hara apply significant caution to ensure decisions are made with great consideration. Following ethical guidelines governing the communication between plastic surgeons and young patients, O’Hara won’t even use the words, “attractive”, "smoother” or “best”. Instead she provides information about what can be achieved through surgery. “I literally provide them with data,” she told The Jewish Independent Media. 

These days most plastic surgeons won’t operate on candidates until they’re 18 years old.

This includes specifics such as, “You’ll be in hospital for 24 to 36 hours. You will have blood running down the back of your throat, it will be very sore, you will get two black eyes, you will absolutely need to wear a splint on your nose for two weeks and then tape for six weeks.” 

Talia and Cara were not offered any form of counselling by their plastic surgeons when they had their short consultations 20-plus years ago. 

My mother didn’t suggest counselling after our revelatory hooked-nose conversation, either. I went on to covet a nose job in private, never daring to ask my parents for one. Rhinoplasty was expensive as hell in the noughties and I felt guilty enough about Jewish school fees. 

At some point I decided I’d just have to embrace my Beautiful Nazi Propaganda Schnoz. Just kidding. I did what most angsty teenagers did and added “nose” to the list of things I hated about myself. I can only imagine how intensified that disgust would have been had I grown up with a selfie-propagating smartphone.  

After graduation, I toyed with the idea of paying for my own rhinoplasty but ended up using my savings for things like travel and university. I took my schnoz to Europe, I took it to drama school where a TV director described it as, “strangely aquiline like Meryl Streep’s” (I’m also unsure if that was a compliment?). I even took my hooked nose on dates. 

This is the part where I’m supposed to mention my “soul mate” who didn’t give my schnoz a second thought, but that would be a lie. A few weeks into our new romance, Yosi phoned his brother in the US to report on my “weird-looking” nose. I know this because his brother mentioned it during my formal intro to the family.

My reaction? I honestly felt less hurt and more relieved for the validation of my own suspicions. Mine wasn’t a beautiful hooked-nose, it was a weird hooked nose!

For reasons still unclear to Yosi, he ended up marrying the person with the weird hooked-nose. By 2014, I still hadn’t booked in the surgery despite the fact that the procedure had become more affordable thanks to a few cosmetic cowboys in Sydney. 

When I discovered that I was pregnant in 2019, I immediately began to panic about all the nebbish genes the poor foetus might inherit, including the ones associated with nose morphology. I used to study the 3D ultrasound images to search for clues. “Just relax,” my obstetrician would say, again and again. “Bubba’s nose looks squashed because the transducer is pressing against it.” 

When I discovered I was pregnant, I began to panic about the nebbish genes the foetus might inherit.

Then, in a strange twist of fate, during a skin check in my second trimester, doctors discovered a basal cell carcinoma on … you guessed it …  the tip of my nose. This is the part where I’m supposed to say that my brush with skin cancer made me appreciate my nose in a new way. But that would be a lie.

In my consultation for  surgery, I jokingly-not-jokingly asked the plastic surgeon if he could throw in some rhinoplasty while I was under. The surgeon instructed me to turn my head to the side and said, “Your nose isn’t that bad.” (Again, not sure if that was a compliment?)  

As luck would have it, the procedure to remove the BCC left a significant pincushion scar front and centre, drawing even more attention to my controversial schnoz. One friend joked, “You basically had the nose job you’ve always fantasised about … but in reverse.” 

My daughter was eight weeks old at the time of my surgery. She’s four years old now and I have another daughter who will soon be two. Most nights, after I’ve read them a bedtime story, they take turns squeezing my schnoz, squealing “honk honk” with delight. It’s during this ritual, I feel glimmers of gratitude that I didn’t change the nose I was born with.

With the current state of social media, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before my daughters come to me with a request to change something about what I consider to be their perfect faces. If I'd had rhinoplasty myself wouldn't it be hypocritical of me to say no? That’s the kind of polarising question I’m supposed to raise anyway, for everyone to fight about in the comments section. The truth is more nuanced.

Talia and Cara are mothers now, too. I ask them if they would ever instigate cosmetic surgery for their children. It’s a hard no and no. Talia and Cara apply a Gen Y approach to parenting, with body neutrality and acceptance as a top priority. This is perhaps why it comes as no surprise when they both maintain that they would sooner enforce counselling for potential body dysmorphia if their children ever came to them with aesthetic complaints. 

However, Cara exposes the grey area when she admits that if her teenage child hypothetically became so self-conscious about a part of their body that they weren’t leaving their home and therapy wasn’t helping, she would give consent for surgery. “At the end of the day, if your child is upset, you’ll do everything within your power to help them feel better, to make them happy."

It’s a big Jewish cliché, isn't it? A mother going to great lengths to ensure their child is happy. It’s almost as prominent as a Jewish nose. But it’s a beautiful one, nonetheless.

Photo: two guesses

About the author

Tami Sussman

Tami Sussman writes for children and adults and is the author of the novel 'So That Happened … But Maybe You Already Knew That'. She's also one half of the TJI Podcast 'Ashamed to Admit'.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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