Latest update: April 1st, 2012
Board-certified Miami plastic surgeon and Nose Job Specialist Michael Salzhauer surprised me, I had cynically expected something else entirely.
I’ve written about the Groggers, the band he hired to shoot a very funny commercial promoting his business, urging the “Jewcans” among us to alter their schnozes to get the shikse-looking girl. It was so beyond the pale, you had to laugh.
So I thought, Smart businessman, good finger on the pulse of his potential clients, how cool is that.
Then I wrote the article about his trouble with his colleagues at the ASPS on account of that video commercial, and I figured, I suppose you get hurt when you dare push the envelope, so maybe he’s a smart businessman, but maybe too smart for his own good. But it turned out the entire rebuke came from just one other plastic surgeon who took a ride on Salzhauer’s fame using a chronic absence of a sense of humor as a vehicle to get his own 15 minutes of fame. So far, there’s been no ASPS action against Salzhauer.
Then I was reading – because I’m Jewish and I’m addicted to the Jewish Press – the articles and counter articles and many hundreds of comments on the issue of giving your daughter an extra oomph in her search for a good husband, and, if needed, paying for her nose job.
So I started calling Dr. Michael Salzhauer’s office, asking for an interview, and whenever I called he’d be hard at work, turning Jewish noses into Nordic masterpieces (I could have written “Aryan masterpieces,” but then the hate mail would start pouring). We finally managed to talk, and he blew my mind. He forced me—an instinctive objector to vain mutilation for the sake of some notion of exterior beauty—to reconsider my views on this issue.
And he’s not cynical, that was another huge surprise. I walked away convinced he means every word he says.
MEET NOSE JOB SPECIALIST DR. MICHAEL SALZHAUER
Salzhauer: First of all, I love the Jewish Press, I remember reading it all the time when I was growing up in New York. I’m very pleased with the articles that you guys have written on the Groggers, and before we go into the controversy about the video, I want to tell you an interesting story.
I read Yitta Halberstam’s article (in which she recommended that young women looking for a husband should consider doing a nose job). Gil Student—he and I went to high school together—jokingly posted it on my Facebook page, saying he wonders if Dr. Salzhauer would pay to have this article published.
I read the article, and I saw that there were like 500 comments. I didn’t read through all the comments, of course. I read the article, and thought to myself, She’s right on! This is what I see in my daily practice. I see girls that come in with low self esteem, they have surgery, they blossom, and they go on and I see them months, years later, when they’re married and they thank me and it’s gratifying. It’s one of the most gratifying things about my job as a cosmetic surgeon.
So I put in a comment that she’s 100 percent correct.
I’ve been speaking to shadchanim (matchmakers) literally for years, offering my services for free. I say, look, if you have clients that you think would benefit from cosmetic surgery, I won’t charge them. If you refer them to me and you tell me that they’re dating and they’re trying and they don’t have the money for the surgery, please send them to me, I’ll be happy to do it and let’s see if we can’t change people’s lives.
(The average nose job costs between five and ten thousand dollars in Miami. In New York and Los Angeles these operations would cost between eight and twenty thousand – YY)
So I’ve been speaking to shadchanim and they all email me back and say, I think it’s a good idea, we’ll work on it, but no one ever took me up on the offer. I guess because it’s a very difficult conversation for a shadchan to broach with a young woman.
Imagine going to your shadchan and they tell you, I think you need a nose job, or liposuction. A lot of times it’s even congenital things, when one breast is bigger than the other, for instance. It’s a very common issue, but I know that in the frum community it’s more than just stigmatized, as it is in the general population, where, even though it’s very common, people still speak about plastic surgery in hushed whispers. For frum people it’s a taboo.
Yanover: I’ve always admired your profession for repairing cleft palates, or reconstructing nasal passages, or helping burn victims, where the issues at hand are not just aesthetic, but come down to the quality and even the possibility of life itself.
Salzhauer: I’ve heard that my whole career. You should know that before they allow you to do cosmetic surgery, you have to operate on sick people, you have to go through general surgery. Then you have to operate on reconstructive cases, like cleft palates, etc. And then, after all that, you reach a level where you can operate on people that don’t necessarily need you for medical reasons, but you can greatly benefit their lives.
To operate on a healthy person, to put a scar on somebody who otherwise wouldn’t need it, but you can actually make them look better and feel better, that’s another level completely.
I’ve been through burn victims, I’ve been through cleft palates and so forth.
WHY DO CROOKED TEETH GET ALL THE BREAKS?
On the other hand, nobody looks askew at orthodontia, at a parent who takes an 11-year-old girl or boy to the orthodontist because they have crooked teeth. And they put this metal braces in their mouth, and the child is in pain, and it takes months and years, and they look deformed until they finally get them off and they have beautiful, straight teeth. And that, too, costs thousands of dollars.
Still, people don’t have a problem talking about it, and nobody says, Oh, she’s so vain, how could she do that to her kid, doesn’t she know that beauty is on the inside.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world that doesn’t have access to orthodontists, they all survive, they all eat, they all get married, they all do fine. It’s not like you need straight teeth to live. So there’s some hypocrisy there – if you have a crooked nose, you should live with that, but if you have crooked teeth, sure, go get the kid braces.
Yanover: Do you in your practice tell some patients they should not get a nose job, they’re just fine the way they are?
Salzhauer: Often. I would say, between 15 and 20 percent of all the people that come into my office don’t even get a quote for surgery. I just say, Look, what you have isn’t serious enough to require surgery – in other words, it’s some minor imperfection that only they see.
They may also not be psychologically good candidates for surgery for various reasons.
Some people think that surgery is going to suddenly cure all their life’s problems. But that’s just not true. So if I pick up on those cues in talking to patients, and I say, You’re just not a good candidate for cosmetic surgery.
Then there are patients who can’t have the surgery for medical reasons. I only operate on, essentially, young, healthy people. I don’t do a lot of facelifts. I don’t treat a lot of patients over the age of 50. The majority of my patients are between ages 15 and 50.
THE TALE OF THE HASIDIC REBBE AND THE PLASTIC SURGEON
When I was a general surgery resident, going through trauma training and cardiac surgery training and all that, and I’m frum, so I had a crisis of conscience – shouldn’t I do trauma surgery, which seemed much more lofty.
A chasidishe rebbe came to town, I think it was the Riminover Rebbe (Rabbi Chaim Wassertheil). I saw a sign – Tzadik ba la’ir (a righteous man has arrived in our city). So I went for yechidus (private audience), to ask about my dilemma. I had a few references from people who said he was “ish kadosh,” a holy guy.
So I went in, I was about 27 at the time, and I told him, I’m on this path, I was accepted in plastic surgery—which is a very competitive position to get because it’s considered a highly specialized field and it’s so lucrative. I told him, I have a lot of other choices, I can go into general surgery, I could go into business and medicine, and I had couched the question to him in a way that I was sure he was going to say, You should go into helping sick people. I was sure that’s what he was going to say, how could he say anything else?
So he looks down for a few minutes… By the way, this is a guy who, I’m sure, has not watched TV his whole life, I doubt he’s seen a movie, or knows who Madonna is, or anything like that. And he looks at me and in his very heavy accent he says, You must, you must continue – meaning plastic surgery.
I said, Why? And he said, the shalom beis (tranquility of the home) you’re going to bring, the shiduchim (matches) you’re going to make, from what you do.
He said it like that. And then he looked and saw that my birthday was beis Iyar (the second day of the month of Iyar), which in the Omer count order of sephirot (the Kabbalistic emanations of God into the world, whose order is recited between the Seder night and Shavuot) is Tiferet sh’b'Tiferet (the Glory level of the Sephira of Glory – meaning the most beautiful point on the most beautiful vector, very simplistically put, of course – YY).
So he says, This is what you need to do. And he kept saying, shalom bayis and shiduchim.
I went back to my wife and I told her the story, and she said, OK, now you have your answer, now you’re settled.
So I went through all the required training, and now I’ve been quite successful performing cosmetic surgery for some time, Baruch HaShem. And what the Rebbe said has exactly come true. I see women after childbirth – and when a woman’s body has been ravaged by childbirth, I can really be useful in restoring her – and there’s your shalom beis (meaning she is desirable to her husband again – YY).
THERE’S NOBODY HERE BUT US JEWCANS
Yanover: What does it say about us as a nation that we are willing to spend so much money to look less Jewish?
Salzhauer: That’s a very good question. You know, I go through the comments in these articles, not just the ones in the Jewish Press, and there’s a certain percentage in the population which is against plastic surgery lechatchilah (as an option altogether). Something about it doesn’t sit right for them.
Yanover: My own natural response would be, Why would someone want to mutilate themselves? And why would anyone wish to turn themselves into a sexual object this way?
Salzhauer: There were also comments by people who said that it is gneivas da’as (deception). You fix her nose, you make her pretty, and then the kids end up looking nothing like her.
People are afraid they’d be deceived when they pick a spouse. There’s a deep seated psychology there, they want to know what they’re getting.
On the other hand, what was the aim of Hitler, may his name be blotted – he wanted the purest blood, the purest genes, he wanted everyone to look a certain way. And in fact, there was a case in Ohio where a plastic surgeon was murdered by a neo-Nazi for making people look more Aryan than they naturally were.
The question, then, is, are we Jewish because we have a big nose? Is that what our identity has come down to? That we would be compelled to say, I’m not changing because looking this way means I’m Jewish, because of the way that my genes are expressed externally?
If you get down to it, I think it’s wrong. Our Judaism is expressed in our actions, in the deeds that we do. But there are people, and let me tell you, some of them are among the most secular Jews you’ll ever meet, they won’t step in a shul, but you offend their nose, they’ll let you have it – because that’s the identity that they’ve latched on to.
Beauty is not entirely subjective. Psychologists have dome studies where they take images of faces and they show them to people from different cultures all over the world, and there are certain patterns, certain symmetries, certain facial shapes, that are more attractive than others in everyone’s eyes, no matter where they grew up.
There is something in the human psyche that prefers a certain kind of beauty.
When you said “mutilate” before, you cut right to my heart. The point is not to mutilate, the point is to enhance. The techniques we have today involve a knife, but if it wasn’t surgery, if they didn’t have to be put to sleep, if there wasn’t any risk involved, if you could just walk into a box, press a button and suddenly you’d look different, I don’t think there would be as much objection. But there would probably be some objection, still.
YOU CAN TAKE THIS TO THE RECEPTION COUNTER
I’m issuing a real plea to shadchanim, to send me their clients who might need cosmetic surgery but can’t afford it.
Yanover: How can you afford it, though? What will you do if 20 young women show at your door for their free nose jobs?
Salzhauer: They may not all get it the same day…
Yanover: Does that include everything that’s involved, including anesthesia?
Salzhauer: Everything, everything.
Yanover: And you’re not putting a time limit on your offer?
Salzhauer: No time limit. Look, I have a feeling that if it catches on there’ll be other plastic surgeons who would help me. There are at least four or five frum plastic surgeons in Miami. But first I have to prove that there’s a need, that there are people who really want and need it but can’t afford it.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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