Beyond its biological function, the nose is considered a defining feature in establishing facial harmony and symmetry. In addition, certain characteristics came to be associated with different groups of people and maligned thanks to harmful biases and designations.
In Sander L. Gilman’s 1999 book Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery, the literary historian details how in the 18th and 19th centuries, the nose was a signifier of beauty and an indicator of moral standing and character. “The noses of the black and the Jew were signs of their ‘primitive’ nature,” he writes. “This was primarily because the too-flat nose came to be associated with the inherited syphilitic nose. In this view, flattened noses are nature’s moral comment on the hygiene of a ‘race’ in terms of both racial difference and dangerousness.”
Decades and several trend shifts later, the archetypal Black nose, with its wide bridge and flare nostrils, is still a source of shame for some Black people, who use methods like contouring, a makeup technique that uses shadow and product to create the illusion of a slimmer nose. But some critics have spoken out against such techniques. “Somewhere along the way, Black women have started to drink the proverbial ‘kool-aid,’” Briana McCarthy wrote for Essence magazine in 2020. “We’ve allowed a standard that doesn’t even consider us to seep into our beauty routines. We’ve begun to believe the lie that ‘our’ noses are bad and ‘theirs’ are better. Why else would we contour them?”
Similarly, in 2022, beauty entrepreneur Bobbi Brown, who is Jewish, pushed back against the contouring trend and shared how she turned down her mother’s offer to get a nose job as a young girl, once a popular trend for affluent Jewish teenagers.
Historically, Black celebrities who got plastic surgery opened themselves up to intense scrutiny and speculation about what procedures they may or may not have had while fighting accusations of self-loathing. Digital publication Atlanta Black Star didn’t hold back when it published a 2013 list of “10 Black Celebs Caught Expressing Self-Hate” and included the likes of Lil’ Kim, NeNe Leakes, and Tyra Banks as offenders for their decision to undergo plastic surgery. In 2020, talk show host Wendy Williams told her studio audience how she was “vilified, hung, suspended without pay” in the ’90s for her various surgical procedures, which she spoke openly about.
The Jackson family and their evolving faces have long been the subjects of speculation and tabloid ridicule. Janet, the youngest of the siblings, spoke candidly about undergoing a nose job at 16 years old. “Would I do it again? I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of women that have been pulled and snatched, and it’s not too cute,” she told Extra in 2006.
For the past two decades, according to Houston Methodist Hospital’s Brissett, “the aesthetic norm was more strongly based on Western influence. And so, when a patient of ethnic descent, whether it be Black, Hispanic, Asian, or any of the above, went to see a plastic surgeon, and it was for a rhinoplasty, oftentimes what they were getting was a change in nasal appearance based on Western norms and standards.”
Brissett said he often saw clients who weren’t happy with the results. “I was then forced to do a racial or cultural restoration, trying to bring patients back more towards what their noses could or should look like in relationship to their racial features,” he said.
Research from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons confirms that the pandemic has had a general influence on the rising number of people getting plastic surgery for various reasons, including the so-called Zoom boom, or the phenomenon of people becoming hyperfixated on their on-camera appearance because of remote working.
People of color have been among the most rapidly growing category of patients. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, from 2000 to 2013, the number of procedures performed on ethnic patients increased by 243%.
This is likely due to several factors. Among them is the fact that plastic surgery is less taboo than ever, especially in racial and ethnic minority communities.
The boom of reality TV makeover shows in the 2000s demystified the process, showing viewers what was possible. And more celebrities have spoken candidly about their procedures. In 2011, Kelly Rowland made it clear that she had no regrets after undergoing breast augmentation back in 2007. And after years of gossip, rapper Cardi B confirmed during an Instagram Live that she had had a rhinoplasty back in 2020, telling fans, “I had my daddy’s nose. That had to go.”
When celebrities aren’t ready to speak up, the litany of social media posts dedicated to determining what work they may or may not have gotten has threatened the veil of secrecy. YouTubers like Lorry Hill have built entire brands by offering their assessment of how famous faces and bodies are being augmented.
There’s also the fact that cosmetic procedures are increasingly affordable. A rhinoplasty, which can cost north of $15,000 in Beverly Hills, can now be bought for a third of that price in Turkey, with an all-inclusive vacation to go with it. This accessibility has been a major driving force in determining who has the means to make their aesthetic revisions a reality.
Most importantly, perhaps, new developments in the procedure itself have meant patients can be optimistic about obtaining better results than in the past. “We’re still learning new things about the nasal anatomy to this day that we didn’t know 20 years ago,” Shemirani said. “The evolution has changed from removing too much cartilage to adding cartilage grafts, and now to respecting the anatomy and reshaping and restructuring.”
Shemirani, who has nearly two decades of experience as a surgeon, performed around 200 rhinoplasties last year, around half of which he says were for nonwhite patients.
“I’ve had Middle Eastern patients who have a big hump [on their nose], but they want to leave a little bump to maintain their ethnicity. That’s a common request,” Shemirani said.
Performing a rhinoplasty on people of color is a process that comes with certain considerations for anatomy, which Shemirani says surgeons plan and prepare for. “Black noses are very similar to Asian noses, the skin’s a little bit thicker, so if someone wants a little bit more definition, you have to address the skin. [Also] the cartilage, which is underneath, is the framework that the skin rests on [and] is a little bit weaker, so you really have to reinforce the nose,” he explained. “We take cartilage grafts from inside the nose. In some cases, especially with Asian and Black noses, there isn’t enough cartilage inside the nose, so sometimes we take rib cartilage because you want a strong post so that when the skin heals against it, it’ll shrink-wrap nicely and it won’t just crumple under the pressure of healing.”