Al mashriq - The Levant
Facing extinction: The Lebanese nose
Plastic surgery is gaining popularity. Anne Renahan asks why

(Courtesy of The Daily Star, Beirut, February 22, 1999)

Original works of art are highly prized. The same cannot be said of the Lebanese nose a facial feature that some people are starting to say is an endangered species on the verge of extinction. Pert noses my be cute but for a growing number of people, tired of the national nose job obsession, big noses are better.

That’s the opinion of Mireille Azouri, 26, who had her nose cast as part of an exhibition that celebrates the natural Lebanese nose. “Yes, you can say that the Lebanese have strong noses,” she says. “But I like them. We should trust our noses because they are proportional with the rest of the face.”

But it would appear that many more people disagree with her. Although there are no statistics for the number of people who have had nose jobs in this country, plastic surgeons agree that it is the most performed cosmetic surgery procedure in Lebanon.

In 1965, the Lebanese Society of Plastic,Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery had six surgeons. Today it has 40 the number of specialists in the field has risen in direct proportion to demand. All agree that Lebanon is a nation preoccupied with the pursuit of the perfect nose.

But has it gone too far?

Hala, 16, who had a nose job last summer thinks it most definitely has. “It’s really getting out of control,” she says. “I know at least five of my friends all about 16 years old who have had operations and I’m sure there are many more.”

While she feels it’s acceptable to undergo surgery to boost a person’s self-confidence, she feels that this often isn’t the case. “It’s so trendy to have this done now that people who don’t need to change their noses, who have really nice noses in fact, are having operations and making themselves look worse. It’s bad now and I think that it’s going to get even worse,” she sighs.

She feels that the sheer number of nose jobs suggests that people view the attainment of a new nose in the same light as buying a designer suit or a pair of expensive shoes: A fashion decision that is as easy to make as deciding how to color your hair or paint your nails.

Not everyone views the nose job quite so lightly. For nose-conscious Cherine Fahd, an Australian artist of Lebanese origin who is heading the fight to preserve the Lebanese nose in all its original glory, the nose job is a fashion statement with more sinister implications.

In Beirut for the Sydney-Beirut/Beirut-Sydney contemporary art exhibition, she makes plaster molds of Lebanese noses that will be displayed in an exhibition to be held in Sydney later this year. She’s cast about 100 noses so far and hopes to preserve another 100 before the exhibition ends.

The nose project started out as a way of examining identity, “I was shocked by the number of people who have had nose jobs here,” says the fresh faced 25-year-old artist, who is proud to point out that her nose has never been touched by surgical hands. “I think it’s a shame because it’s a denial of who you are.”

But Fahd says that her artistic project has taken on another dimension. Finding an original Lebanese nose is difficult and her exhibition aims to redress the balance. Instead of deriding that much maligned feature, she is determined to celebrate it.

“This is an important project for me,” she says flicking through a local magazine filled with society pictures of people Fahd is convinced have had nose jobs. Just about every woman in every photo has had a white nose drawn over her own to indicate that what you see is not what that person was born with.
Fahd shrugs her shoulders and says that whilst she understands the desire to have a small nose, she doesn’t agree with it. The Lebanese nose is a distinctive feature that should be shown off rather than shorn off the face. “The ideal nose for me is large. In fact, the bigger the nose, the better,” she says defiantly. Fahd adds that this is not just the case with the Lebanese in Lebanon. “I see it with the Lebanese population all over the world: In Sydney or the States too. You have to ask yourself: Why?”

The answer is very simple. “There’s a certain ideal of what constitutes a beautiful woman,” she says. “Having a large nose doesn’t conform to the standard of beauty that we see in magazines.

“So people want to change to something more European.”

Doctors agree with this assessment.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a higher tendency for people to have plastic surgery in Lebanon than other countries,” says Dr. Nabil Fuleihan, a facial plastic surgeon and professor who also heads ear, nose and throat medicine and head and neck surgery at AUH. He worked in the States for 15 years. “And rhinoplasty cosmetic surgery on the nose is definitely the most popular.”

Fuleihan, 47, uses a new technique of computer generated graphics to show patients what their reshaped nose will look like. The plastic surgeon who returned to Lebanon a year ago and says there is a particular reason why the Lebanese have rebelled against their most prominent facial feature.

Many Lebanese feel that they have “big, bulbous noses, or a big hump, wide nostrils or that their nose is asymmetrical,” he says. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, says the doctor, but people are conditioned by the world around them and particularly by the media which promotes a very different ideal nose to the one that most Lebanese feel that they possess.

“I think that the Lebanese population tends to be very fashion oriented. People want to look as good as possible,” says Dr. Fuleihan. “They’re influenced by Western aesthetic norms and by magazines and TV.”

Media images of small delicate noses are what just about everyone, young and old, wants, says Fuleihan.

But for younger Lebanese the desire to change their appearance is even more acute than it is for their parents. “For one thing many of them have traveled more and have a more European outlook,” he says.

“I also think it’s a reaction to what went on before. People behave more existentially now. They want to live for the moment. The Lebanese population went through quite a bit and they want to enjoy living.”

“It made a really big difference to the way I feel about myself.” says Maria, 17, who had a nose operation when she was 16. “It really boosted my self esteem. I broke my nose when I was 11 and people used to say to me ‘you’d be really pretty if you had a smaller nose,’ and it really got to me. If it helps you lead a happier life, then it’s OK.”

“If it makes some feel better than it’s a good thing,” agrees Dr. E.M., 65, a member of the Lebanese Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery, which does not allow members to publish their names.

The surgeon has been practicing for 36 years and performs up to two operations a day. He estimates that he has performed at least 22,000 plastic surgical procedures, of which 6,000 were nose jobs.

But he doesn’t think that the high number of nose jobs in Lebanon is a fashion trend. The low cost of operations means that it cannot be considered a status symbol because to a certain extent it is available to everyone. “The operation is easy to do and can be done in a day. And it’s also cheaper here than other countries the average price of a nose job in the States may be up to $6,000. In Lebanon it can cost as little as $1,000,” she says.

“We also have special conditions here that I don’t think exist in other countries,” she adds. “We have different categories of hospital here, first, second and third. The prices vary, but it means that on the lower end of the scale, patients from other countries who would not be able to have plastic surgery can afford to have it here.”

He also attributes the popularity to improvement in technology over the last few years. “We have better results now than we had before. That’s why more people are having surgery.”

But Fuleihan at the AUH insists that the reasons are much deeper. Better surgery has encouraged more people to have surgery, but the desire to change appearance is rooted in something much more psychological.

Having a nose job may be fashion statement to a certain extent. “But it’s not like buying a dress or changing your hair-do. It requires a lot of thought. People need to know what they’re doing” says Fuleihan who estimates that while he was a surgeon in the States he turned away around 30 percent of people who came to see him  “for aesthetic reasons.”

The Lebanese may not like their noses, he says, but they’re only trying to achieve an ideal of beauty that everyone in the world is obsessed with. “Before people used to say it was survival of the fittest. Now. and I hate to say it, it’s survival of the cutest … Unfortunately people do get judged on their appearance,” he says.

He says that this is particularly the case for women who form the majority of plastic surgery patients  although the number of men is starting to increase.

But Fuleihan does not feel that the Lebanese nose is danger of extinction. He says that maintaining the character of a face is important to him and that when doing a nose job, he tries to be as “natural” as possible.

“There are some people who may do all their noses the same way, but I don’t like to put a signature on faces,” he says. “I don’t want to lose someone’s natural looks.” A good nose job should be undetectable.

But for Cherine Fahd, the undetectable nose job is virtually non-existent. “When we go out to bars or whatever, we have this thing where we’ll count all the people who have had their noses done,” she says eyes widening in vague disbelief. “It’s usually a very high number.”