Nose Jobs Have Declined 43% Since 2000. We Sniffed Out Why.

The rhinoplasty's telling beak of bandages was once a badge of honor, but today, an imperfect nose is the real symbol of self-possession.

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Mar 17 2018, 5:06pm

Whatever happened to the nose job? The post-op bandages used to be everywhere, little white flags of surrender to conformity. Rachel from Friends had one written into her past (to make her more relatable, a show writer said), and George’s girlfriend on Seinfeld went under the knife to please him. But noses are making a comeback, with rhinoplasty down 43% since 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Is it the financial crisis? Is it the ghastly parade of celebrity cosmetic surgery gone wrong?

American women no longer wish for noses that remind them of “piglets and kittens,” as Diana Vreeland once said. They’d rather flare their nostrils than fit in. Over the past decade, beauty trends have moved toward a slippery definition of natural beauty and self-acceptance, granting us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can with endless hours at the gym.

Photo by Richie Talboy

The modern nose job was born in the 1920s. Art collector Peggy Guggenheim had one of the first, and it was said that her new nose would swell and shrink according to the weather. Nose jobs became a rite of passage among Jewish girls: “You had your bat mitzvah and you got your nose done,” a plastic surgeon told the New York Times in 1999. Any woman with a nose bigger than a button might be pressured to get it lopped off. Even Sophia Loren was threatened with a nasal updo when she moved to Hollywood. She refused. “They were saying that my nose was too long and my mouth was too big. It didn’t hurt me at all because when I believe in something, it’s like war,” Loren told the Hollywood Reporter. Things were different in ancient times. As the 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked, “If Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been different.”

The smell of change is once again in the air. Hollywood starlets have begun apologizing for their rhinoplasties. (Who knew so many actresses had sinus problems that required surgery?) An imperfect nose has become a badge of artistic gravitas: sweet-faced Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron might not have won their Oscars without prosthetics — temporary nose jobs in reverse.

Historians of the nose job (they exist!) point to the slump in surgeries as a sign of the growing acceptance of diversity. You no longer need a small nose to make it big in America. With this comes the whiff of another advance: the realization that there’s beauty in difference. While every perfect nose is the same, at least within its category —like “Barbie,” “Aquiline,” or “Duchess” — every imperfect nose has its own mesmerizing flaws. It’s a pleasure to notice the bump that makes one woman friend look experienced and thoughtful, the proud beak that gives another an air of perfectly pronounced judgment.

A good nose is like a horn announcing one’s entry into battle. A bold lip or thick liner projects sexy aggression, but by the end of the day it wears off. Could Marina Abramović have spent 736 hours looking at visitors at MoMA if she didn’t have such a magnificent schnoz to guide her gaze? A face with an uncommon nose is a face to be reckoned with, a profile worthy of an ancient coin. And that’s nothing to sniff at.

A version of this story first appeared in GARAGE No. 14, available to buy here.