“That was life altering. I went from, in my mind, hideous, to not hideous. I did it the summer before going to a new high school. So there were plenty of people who wouldn’t know how hideous I looked before. That was a good, good, good change.”
I read this yesterday, and was immediately saddened. Then I read a few essays written about it by other thoughtful people, and some news stories. One news story contained a photo of Lisa in high school, and this confirmed my belief that she really didn’t look that much different before and after the surgery, and in both cases looked beautiful to me. Still sad, and baffled for the countless times that a perfectly attractive woman saw herself as the opposite, I cycled through my usual series of thoughts and emotions about this issue. Let’s call them my plastic surgery cycles of grief. This typically begins with feeling sorry that people, especially young people, feel that it’s necessary at all. It bothers me that self-worth is tied to appearance on a level that makes people feel as though changing theirs surgically is necessary to live well.
This mental plastic surgery bashing is followed by my reminder to myself that it’s a wonderful world of free will and, for some people, access to the resources to have elective cosmetic procedures done. I’m well aware that for many of these people, the increase in self-esteem that results is worth it to them, and that living with hatred of one’s appearance is a tough slog.
When it came to Lisa Kudrow’s comments, though, even viewing them through this analytical lens, I just kept circling back to sad.
I’m admittedly biased on this subject. Born with a cleft lip and palate myself, my nose jobs weren’t by choice. They were necessary from the time I was small to make sure my face held together well, to ensure that I breathed properly, and also, yes, to give me the closest thing to a “normal” nose — whatever that is — that I could get. This experience, arguably the most influential one in my life, skews me a bit critical of the decision to pursue elective cosmetic surgery, while I’m also (and I cannot emphasize this enough) very empathetic about the reasons why people find it necessary. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s feeling “less than” because of what you look like, which on an average day is the ultimate thing you can’t change. I mean, what are you supposed to do about your nose on a random Tuesday between algebra and Spanish class? Hard to grow a new one on command, not that I haven’t wished for that before on more than one occasion.
So. I feel you, Lisa Kudrow. Junior high was hell, and so was elementary school before it, for that matter. Her experience sounds like it was actually worse than mine, including harsh rejection from two “best friends”:
“That happened in seventh grade when we moved from sixth grade to a new school. So they knew some people, and I didn’t. Eventually they just got tired of me being a tag-along. They said, ‘For your own good, you need to see what would happen if we weren’t here.’ It was really brutal. Very hard… It was just mean. And all of junior high felt upside down to me. It was not, like, the nice people who were popular; it wasn’t the most entertaining people—it was the meanest people who were popular. We were reading Macbeth at the time, and I remember the three witches: ‘What’s fair is foul and foul is fair.’ That’s all I could hear in my head during that whole period. When my friends dropped me, I was asking my parents, ‘What did I do?’ And my father would say, ‘F ’em.’ His answer to everything. And my mother would say, ‘You can’t do that.’”
A. Those were not friends. B. I’m sorry she ran into those girls, and I’m hoping they treat people better today.
Kudrow doesn’t tie her choice to have a rhinoplasty to poor treatment from mean girls, but her social experience couldn’t have helped her self-esteem. When you already feel insecure or ostracized, it’s very easy to turn that laser of judgment and shame on yourself. It’s also very easy, when you’re treated poorly, to assume that it must be something external, because what else is more obvious? What is, literally, plainer than the nose on your face? When all else fails, it must be my nose. Right?
Well, probably not, but why she ultimately had the surgery isn’t really that important. What is important is that when she was 16 years old, Lisa Kudrow felt hideous. It’s a strong, rough word. Dictionary.com defines it as “horrible or frightful to the senses; repulsive; very ugly: a hideous monster.”
“I did it the summer before going to a new high school. So there were plenty of people who wouldn’t know how hideous I looked before.”
She had surgery while still in her physical and emotional formative years to change a body part that one happens to wear smack in the middle of one’s face, and after that surgery, she no longer felt that her face was horrible or frightful, repulsive, or very ugly. She felt that she could move in the world she lived in with confidence.
“That was a good, good, good change.”
One does not use three “goods” decades into the future about a change or a choice that one regrets, so it’s safe to say that Lisa Kudrow, as most of us do, did the best she could do at the time given the facts of her life, and that it turned out okay, or even great, for her. I guess it’s possible that without the rhinoplasty, she may have stayed in a negative place about her appearance, may even have opted out of acting. A world without Phoebe on Friends would be a harsh world indeed, so maybe I should focus on the positive outcomes and be quiet. I can keep circling around to the basic truth that matters, which is that her nose and what she does with it is none of my business, that she got a nose job because she felt like it, and she isn’t sorry, so I shouldn’t be either.
But I can still be sorry that human beings can judge ourselves so harshly, and that any young girl feels hideous to the point of seeking a surgical remedy, even when that little girl is all grown up and is okay with it herself. Isn’t that understandable? I hope so, because I am.
Image credit: Pacific Coast News