When Bradley Cooper reached over to sensually stroke Lady Gaga’s nose in A Star is Born and said, “I think your nose is beautiful,” I turned to my friend Joy sitting beside me and said, “My dream come true!”
I was only being partially facetious. When was the last time I saw a big-nosed woman admired, adored, and launched into fame on the silver screen? Oh right, Barbra Streisand in the 1976 version of A Star is Born. Alas, Babs’ decades of celebrity do not cancel out the fact that women with significantly-sized noses are not exactly seen as alluring or deserving of commercial success. This fact has been tickling the inside of my own substantial nose since I was 12 and first referred to as “crow face.”
Sometimes I feel like a caricature of myself: After the hard-hitting realization in adolescence that I had a “Jewish” nose, I eagerly researched local plastic surgeons and kept a “before and after” folder containing photos of celebrities with purported nose jobs. Like Lady Gaga’s character Ally, I longed to be discovered as a star, my desire cemented by exhilarating experiences with middle school musical theater. I felt certain that I was overlooked because of my nose by talent agents prowling through the Connecticut Post Mall. At 15, a family member informed me that I was “actually quite beautiful” as long as you couldn’t see my “Graff family profile.” Through middle and high school, I was referred to as having a “beak,” a “witch nose,” and a “nose so sharp you could cut someone.” My personal favorite? “The one with the nose.”
But now I’m an adult and only marginally bothered when people comment disparagingly on the center of my face. However, the anti-Semitic undercurrents of being told I “look Jewish” by friends, acquaintances, strangers, and people on Tinder due to my nose leaves me with a bad taste. There’s a reality that even the most radical feminists I know need to swallow: There’s no way to tell if someone is Jewish just by looking at them. There is, however, the possibility to notice the size and shape of one’s smelling appendage and think, “Huh, I recognize that a mid-13th century hostile caricature of Jewish people still has bearing on how I observe, interact with, and comment on the appearance of people I meet in the 21st century. I might not need to acknowledge this aloud.”
Still, my nose does not want to be ignored. It wants to be acknowledged. Admired, but not broadcast; adored, but not fetishized. So it was an unusual and powerful experience to watch this early scene of A Star Is Born, in which Ally discusses how she was dismissed as a performer due to her nose, an experience that parallels criticism the real-life Lady Gaga faced in her early days of stardom. In this scene, Ally is both bold and insecure, the shame of rejection shadowing her expression while her voice holds a current of defiance. Her love interest, Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), a seasoned musician (and as we later discover, an abusive alcoholic), reveals his only redeeming quality: “I love your nose,” he says.
After their first night spent together, Ally draws one finger down her profile so Jackson can “take another look” at her, a direct violation of the contract she — like me, and many other big-nosed people — have struck with ourselves: Never point out your dramatic profile to a date.
When her character reaches the height of fame, she points out the size of her nose on a billboard overlooking the city — “It’s real big up there,” she says. But so is her stardom, and once you have a distinguishable “look,” there’s no going back.
She repeats the profile-tracing gesture near the end of the film, as her relationship with Jackson comes to a tumultuous end while musical success settles in reassuringly to take his place. But as we know from Jackson’s own career spiral, it’s clear that Ally’s celebrity status will eventually come to an end, too. The repetition of the emphatic gesture reminds us where she began, as she traces her distinctive and now-beloved nose. Her nose will outlive her fame, relationships, and insecurities. It is the central point to which she can return, a mark of individuality unfettered by show.
Outside the movie theater, I feigned tracing my own profile for my friends, running my finger lightly down my sharp witchy beak. They laughed at me, but I felt moved by my own gesture. How many times have I tilted my chin up and looked straight ahead so people can see how proud I am of my “Graff family” profile. How often do I tell people that I like having a “significant nose?” Oh right. Never.