I was pretty much bowled over by last night’s episode of Glee‘s willingness to pitch fastball taboos and knock ‘em straight outta the park.
No, not the awesomeness of making it OK to be gay (and even OK if you are and don’t want to tell anyone yet.) Not the Bad Ass Big Girl unapologetically running for Prom Queen. Not even the admonition that pretty much everyone in this country has some symptom of OCD, ADHD, depression, anxiety and/or other mental illness and really ought to admit it.
It was the nose job subplot that left me speechless. Kisses to writer Brad Falchuk (son of Hadassah President Nancy) for adding the Jewish girl’s personal albatross to the list of last night’s coming-to-terms-with-ourselves-issue (which also included Asian eyes and lesbian haircuts.) It’s only one of our culture’s favorite ways to make us feel shitty about ourselves and trick us into conforming to a norm that doesn’t really exist anyway. I’m very impressed with the skill that Brad and his writing team skewer this nonsense and set it to song and dance.
Yes, Jewish girls and their nose jobs are a long and tired cliché based in an undeniable reality. From Philip Roth to Sarah Silverman, no Jewish social commentator can resist pointing out that legions of Jewish women will succumb to the knife in the name of looking a little less Jewy—although mostly it never fools anyone. A lot of my friends from camp returned the summer of 1987 with the same little noses from the same plastic surgeon. It’s still the de rigeur Sweet 16 gift in many places. For some, the surgery undoubtedly made them feel better about what they saw in the mirror; for others, it only displaced insecurity to another part of their bodies.
In high school in the 80s, it was rather unlikely that a sexy guy would come up to you in the girls’ bathroom and say “I just want to talk to you, one hot Jew to another” like Puck did with Rachel in order to confront her about her decision to shave down her nose. First of all, there were no hot Jews in my high school, though some of us grew up to be smokin’.
More importantly, back then hardly anyone could see themselves reflected in mainstream media unless you were Molly Ringwald. Sure, we had a whole slew of cheesy after school specials telling us it was OK to be ourselves, except those characters were played by cute, tan Kristy McNichol with the ski slope nose.
The point of last night’s show was that every teenager has something to feel awkward about, and it was just so satisfying to see our ethno-angst represented in a way to transcended all the self-hating Jew jokes. When Puck pleaded with Rachel last night that she shouldn’t get her nose fixed because “it’s been passed down from generation to generation as a birthright—it’s a sign of the survival of our people” I stood up and cheered. When has that EVER been said on TV? And I thought Glee rocked the world with Kurt and Blaine’s boy kiss.
To be honest, I never felt too badly about my nose at 16 seeing as it was superceded by buck teeth, acne, huge boobs and an ass that wouldn’t fit in a pair of Levi’s. Which pretty much depleted the family self-improvement fund between orthodontia and Weight Watchers and surgery anyway. But I felt such pain of wanting to be different, of being so uncomfortable in my own skin that I would risk pain, scars and the loss of the original way God made me so I didn’t have to suffer being so damned different than everyone else.
It’s took me until my late 20s to figure out that I’m pretty frickin’ great, no matter what size I am or how super loud Jewish I am and how many zits keep popping up between the crow’s feet. Will shows like Glee help my kids accept themselves any faster or easier? Will one of them insist on a nose job if some elephantine gene pops up during puberty and will I acquiesce? Only time will tell. I plan to keep teaching my children to honor themselves—and that fixing anything on the outside will never, ever replace working out what’s going on inside. (I guess we’d better start a therapy fund asap.)
For now I would like to share a gem with you, a photo my dad took of me before that horrible self-loathing teenage poison took hold of me, before 40 pounds stacked on, when I still embraced being a geek and had no idea it would take a decade a half to come back to loving the nerdy girl with braces and nonconformist taste in school band instruments:
If none of us were sidetracked into hating ourselves as teenagers, who could we become?