Body shaming

Pinocchio No More by Tara Kaushal

January 2007: How my nose job solved psychological issues more than it did the (non-existent) issues of my nose.

When I was really young my mom (who I insist I love in spite of this!) said Barbara Streisand and I had similar noses. Which, in itself, is not a bad thing to say. But then, a few months later, completely oblivious to the fact that I had a better memory than hers even when I was six and she was thirty, she said, “Barbara Streisand has a really ugly nose.” This comment, for a reason that completely escaped her, caused her little daughter to weep and weep until my little heart nearly gave way! Now here’s the thing—no one has ever said that I have an ugly nose since. Not one person. And on grown-up analysis, I am well aware that my nasal organ looks nothing like the legendary long-nosed singer’s. In fact, I am convinced that my mother has needed spectacles since she was thirty. However, the memory of that childhood scar has remained.

My nose isn’t crooked or anything. In fact, it is perfectly straight. It did have a hook at the end though, that I grew up with a complete complex about. It looked to me like something you’d stick a ring through if I were a cow. Knowing this complex, my ex-husband would lovingly call it a ‘Lousy Cowsy nose’ (better than his ‘Pakoda’ I always retorted)! I would avoid posing for photographs that intended to take my profile, and I was convinced that that was really not ‘my best face forward’.

So when I was in god-forsaken Dehradun for a long time, away from civilisation on family business, I decided to finally do it. At 23, after 17 years of being complexed (23 – 6 = 17). Go under the knife. Get that little loop chopped off. My father, who was very sick at the time, gave his approval in a drugged haze. My mother agreed 'once she approved of the doctor’. She also insisted I consult our neighbourhood ENT specialist, quite oblivious to the fact that I was embarrassed to death because Dr Bhatia was a very close friend of my grandparents’ and had seen me grow up! So, all background done, I went for my first consultation to this famous plastic surgeon. And then, after having got a few tests done, I went back for my second one, mother in tow. However, this time, for some reason, there was a huge police presence outside the hospital when we reached it. My mother was immediately suspicious. You see, her ‘once I approve of the doctor’ literally translated meant ‘once I meet him, talk to his family, examine his degrees, check whether the hospital has violated any building norms, speak to his professors, meet his wife, see if his own nose is up-to-the-mark, etc.’ No one, doctor or not, was too good for her dear daughter’s nose. Anyway, she spoke to the police and gathered that there had been an acid attack on some small-time actress’s sister, who was admitted to the hospital. My surgery was scheduled for a few days later…

I will now give you and example of my mother’s hyperactive imagination. You know what they say—an empty mind is a devil’s workshop. I was out the next day when I got a call from her. Sitting at home, she had come up with a theory that would have made Sherlock Holmes proud. “What if,” she said, “your (harmless and sweet!) doctor has orchestrated the attack to bring publicity to his hospital, the only one that’s advertising plastic surgery in this town?” I am fortunate to have a little more sense (and a less idle mind) than she does! In light of this creative use of her imagination, I quite forgive her for drawing a non-existent parallel between Ms Striesand’s nose and mine.

Anyway, I’d thought about it long and hard. Would I tell people, would I not tell people? I decided to tell because otherwise it would just get complicated—who I had told, who I had not told, who’d noticed, who wouldn’t... So, on a medium as public as it can get, here it is… I had plastic surgery a couple of months ago to get my long nose shortened. My kind doc, who had originally told me I’d have a small scar at the base of my nose, said very proudly when I woke up, "Oh, I managed to do it without a scar. Now no one will even know!" Here’s the thing—there are two reasons no one would know I’d had a rhinoplasty (why such a mean name)? One, of course, was that I had no scar. Two, I looked no bloody different! I might as well have decided to not tell a soul!

So, here I was, recovering from a surgery that might as well not have happened, in my grandparents’ house. They were completely flummoxed. “Kya naak katake aayee hai,” said my witty grandfather. My dear Dr Goyal said he’d do the surgery again, for free, and snip a little bit more of. And he did. I look marginally different to other people—those who I’ve already told. Others don’t notice a difference at all. My aunt, in an effort to make me feel good, kindly said, “Oh, but this is the true test of plastic surgery—you shouldn’t be able to tell!” And then, what exactly is the point?

Before my surgery, I was taking to my friend Shibu, who sent me an SMS saying, “No need for a nose-job babe, you’re beautiful as you are.” Baggy, who I was chatting with on Skype, was meaner. She said some quack in Dehradun would cut my nose off and then I’d look like I have leprosy and then, big tits or not, no one would look at me. After the surgery, Shiv has been teasing me about my new weight-loss plan—getting rid of 20 gms at a time by chopping off body parts.

But you know what, difference or no difference, pain or no pain, money down the drain or not, I’m feeling much better about myself. Much better. I no longer feel that Aishwarya Rai is any competition at all…

But tell me something, all those of you in the legal profession. Do you think I have a case? Seriously, if I sue, would I stand a chance? Would I be able to get my mom to reimburse my medical costs—considering that it was her genes and her flawed imagination/terrible memory that led me to the surgery in the first place! And then, what about compensation for mental harassment, huh? Do you think I would win?

An edited version of this article appeared in Man's World in January 2007. Read another article about my experiments with plastic surgery here.