A friend recently told me that her mother and aunts have always tried to get her to have her nose corrected. Before they started their campaign, she had never found her nose unsightly. She felt it was more her mother who didn’t like her own nose. Today, she congratulates herself on having resisted this pressure. She says she is happy to find herself, with her nose as is, as part of the recent “trend” that invites the enhancement of one’s natural and ethnic characteristics and urges you to take pride in yourself as you are.

Another friend, who has been struggling since adolescence with an imposing nose inherited from her father, had made an appointment to get rid of it when her father suddenly died. Grieving made her postpone the decision. Strangely, amid the grief, when she looked at herself in a mirror, she saw the reflection of her father, and this image became dearer to her. In the end, she changed her mind and decided to keep an inheritance that somehow kept him alive through her.

If only it were shorter …

Rhinoplasty has been the most common and popular plastic surgery since the 20th Century. Mastered, they say, in prehistoric times, it is above all restorative before you consider aesthetics. Strategically placed in the middle of the face, the nose is a calling card that tells of origins, sometimes your character, and often your social status.

Unsurprisingly, the obsession with the perfect nose dates back to ancient Greece when the sculptor Phidias incorporated the golden ratio, “the divine proportion,” into his sculptures. The golden ratio is also represented by the letter ϕ, Phidias’ initial. In the case of rhinoplasty, it allows for balancing the proportions between the angles of the forehead, chin, and lips with the nose and thus creates harmony where it is lacking. Now, this harmony seems the first condition of seduction, which made Pascal say in his study on “The Misery of Man”: “Cleopatra’s nose: if it had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have changed”. We don’t know much about the actual shape of the Egyptian queen’s nose. Still, the woman who successively seduced both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, the two greatest generals in Rome, had many other charms, including her legendary intelligence and great culture. Pascal’s purpose was to show us the role of love in the history of humanity. And love had taken the shape of that pharaonic nose.

Rite of passage

There is a lot to say on love and noses, first on a physiological level. If the nose grows in adolescence, in both girls and boys, it is mainly because this organ, essential for breathing, must supply oxygen to a growing body and developing muscles. Instinctively, therefore, a large nose is generally equated with virility, physical strength, and temperament that conservative societies tolerate in men and loathe in women. 

It surely would be more interesting to have the nose of Grace Kelly or any other star of the golden age of Hollywood than that atypical example of Rossy de Palma that nevertheless brilliantly served her career as an actress, or that of Lady Gaga, which did not prevent her from becoming an undisputed star of her generation. All this explains the consecration of rhinoplasty as a rite of passage, especially for young girls, who often receive this surgery as a gift for their 18th birthday; it costs roughly the same price as a scooter.

Strangely enough, Iran, dominated as it is by a regime resistant to any Western fashion or thought, has one of the highest rates of rhinoplasty in the world. In addition to marking social status due to its cost, rhinoplasty obeys above all a criterion of harmony which lines up with the Hellenistic obsession with the golden ratio. In Iran, a large part of the population does not want their Iranian nose. And when a young woman does not yet have the means to access this essential correction, she places a plaster on the bridge of her nose, signifying that it is at least a work in progress. The intention is there, and that is enough.

On the side of power

Moreover, among the thousand reasons that one can give for having their nose redrawn, the gaze of the other is often more important than our gazing into a mirror. Having a “Jewish” nose under the Nazi regime could get you killed. Having the same nose as Louis XIV, a “Bourbon” nose, made you an aristocrat. An Arab nose, regardless of the great diversity that exists in the Arab world, is generally fleshy and eagle-beaked. It is the result of natural genetic selection, which has favored survival in extreme climates. The European nose, thinner and adapted to lower temperatures, became the nose of the conqueror and the dominator during colonialism and the industrial revolution: the nose that one would like to have to be on the side of power and therefore of beauty. But today, strength is on the side of those who assert themselves without bowing to the criteria of others. Which way will the perception of beauty go?