Read FF2 Media's 4.5/5 review of Take My Nose ... Please.
Say the word plastic surgery and more than a few extreme examples of women (usually celebrities) going too far in the name of youth and beauty probably come to mind. It’s easy to see why the term has such a negative connotation, seeming like a visual example of what people (usually women) put themselves through to conform to the media’s beauty standards. But according to first-time director Joan Kron, a 89-year-old journalist-turned-documentarian, the media is also at fault for villainizing the industry and turning it into a dirty little secret.
Outspoken about her own experiences and pulling from 25 years writing about the industry, she argues against secrecy and looks at how female comedians have approached the issue - and their choices - publicly with humor. While addressing well known examples of funny women who’ve gone under the knife (Joan Rivers, Fanny Brice, Totie Fields), Take My Nose…Please follows two comedians considering having the procedure themselves, Emily Askin and Jackie Hoffman. We spoke about the hidden bias the public has towards plastic surgery, the history of beauty, and why she had to focus on comedians.
Lesley Coffin: The film has a specific focus, but before we get into the details, I wanted to know what motivated you to make a movie about plastic surgery?
Joan Kron: It was actually an easy decision for me to make because for years I covered plastic surgery for Allure Magazine and was the only journalist in the country who focused on plastic surgery full time. I did that for 25 years, with a column and I also wrote features on plastic surgery. But I felt that documentary filmmaking has become the future of journalism, and I’d appeared in other’s documentaries as a talking head, and felt I could do it. But, I’ve always hated the way plastic surgery has been portrayed in films and reality TV. I found it unfair but also unrealistic. The bulk of people don’t go for the extremes. The bulk of people want a touch here or there, but want to look like themselves. But that’s boring, so the media always talks about the extremes. And as a journalist, I understand that. Ordinary people aren’t entertaining. But when I did my book Lift, I had a section on Hollywood and wrote that everyone seems to lie, I called it the hypocritical oath. They do things in private but lie about it in public. But the only people who don’t lie are comedians. They are in the business of telling the truth. Dramatic actresses want to keep the image of themselves as forever beautiful and young, but comedians focus on all their flaws.
Lesley Coffin: Have comedians changed the way the public perceive plastic surgery, making it less taboo? Some women like Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffith have really bared all.
Joan Kron: Well, Kathy wrote a whole book about it, and has talked about the mistakes she felt she’s made, what she likes, and why she did it. And she’s always said, an agent told her she’d book more work if she had surgery. But that isn’t rare in Hollywood, it’s been going on for 50-60 years but dramatic actresses keep quiet. When I did my book, I spoke with older surgeons who said they used to get calls from agents who were sending over clients. They would charge the actress and 50 dollars would go to the agent for referring them. It was a racket, but it was also something agents felt would get these women more work, which meant they’d get more money too. But Joan dropped clues in every single book she wrote and thanked her plastic surgery on the LP she recorded. I was lucky enough to write the definitive piece on her surgeries and she gave her surgeon permission to talk to me and read from his notes. She was forthcoming with me, but she ultimately couldn’t remember everything she had done. I had to piece it together. I’m very lucky that I still had those audio tapes, because Joan told me she wanted to be in the film but three months later she died. And the misconception that she died undergoing plastic surgery is just wrong, she died having an endoscopy. But it’s been reported that she died having plastic surgery because that’s what people want to believe. They want it to be the culprit, they want it to be bad. That tells you something about the cultural taboo. Even people who are for it or do it, say they’re against it.
Lesley Coffin: In your years reporting on plastic surgery and conducting interviews for the film, what reasons do people give for being against it?
Joan Kron: If you read books on the history of beauty, there has always been a taboo about women improving their appearance. In the 1800s in America, it was grounds for divorce for a woman to claim to be more beautiful. So this view of plastic surgery mirrors the public’s earlier views of makeup, which people said was only worn by actresses and prostitutes. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that make-up was popularized, thanks to Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. Women were pressured to look beautiful but were discouraged from taking steps with makeup or dermatology or eventually plastic surgery.
Lesley Coffin: One of the things that’s so interesting about the film is, the most vocal opponents of plastic surgery seem to be women who use a feminist argument against it.
Joan Kron: Many feminist look at it as the oppression of women, and I look it at in a completely different way. I have a theory that plastic surgery, or cosmetic surgery, is like steroids for athletes. It’s a hidden benefit that people are ashamed of, that people want to outlaw. But it gives you an advantage. I can tell you many stories of feminists who in print speak out about plastic surgery, but in private called me to ask for advice on the best doctors. I take it all with a grain of salt, because most people are against it for others, but want it available for themselves. There is a very funny woman interviewed in my movie who was very outspoken about how terrible it is what women will put themselves through in the name of beauty. But then at the end revealed she’d had her eyes done. What more proof do you need?
Lesley Coffin: What made you select Emily and Jackie as the subjects to follow?
Joan Kron: Emily was very outspoken about her desire for a nose job, very candid. Jackie didn’t seem very interested in plastic surgery, she seemed ambivalent about having anything done. So I asked her if she’d be interested in seeing what could be done, to make an interesting movie, and brought her to a doctor that does imaging. And she thought it would be fun, was game to go with a film crew. And his imaging actually made her prettier than she wanted to be. She has a wonderful career with a funny face, and she didn’t want to risk that. So she really had to think and talk with other doctors about what she wanted to change. And she was very clear with the doctor she choose about what she wanted done, and what she didn’t want done.
Lesley Coffin: During the film, Jackie seemed to kind of express the fears I always think about when talking about celebrities and plastic surgery. It’s not necessarily going too far or mistakes, but a case like Jennifer Grey’s nose job. She’s very public about the impact it had on her career, I went into the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous.” And Jackie seemed very concerned about not looking like herself after a surgery.
Joan Kron: I don’t know Jennifer Grey, don’t know what she asked for versus what she got when she had her nose done. She is a beautiful woman and I feel uncomfortable making judgments about other people. But, she’s obviously the poster child for nose jobs that people who are against plastic surgery like to use as the case against it. All I can say is that this is a couture operation, there is no single outcome. There are many entertainers whose faces you probably know well, who have had very subtle changes that are almost undetectable but which made them more photogenic without changing them too much. There are doctors who are known to do subtle work but because of extreme secrecy it is hard for the public to find them. That is why over the years I had so many letters from readers begging to know who operated on so-and-so. Comedians, with their openness, have performed a public service. By admitting their procedures it gives the average woman a chance to see what the specialty is capable of and what they may or may not want to emulate. When a scientific advance is made, people will take advantage of it. I know of only one case where an actor, a male actor, asked to have the bump restored to his nose for a role in which he was cast.
© Lesley Coffin (10/15/17) FF2 Media
Bottom Photo: Jackie Hoffman
Featured photo: Emily Askin
Photo Credits: Parvenue Ventures