The Journey of My Nose


How TV producer and filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum learned to accept and even love her critical mother.

by Gayle Kirschenbaum

According to my mother, my nose was too big, my breasts were too small, and my hair was too wild. In fact, there wasn’t much about me that she thought didn’t need fixing. I used to have dreams when I was a little girl that I’d wake up and my hair would be straight. I was sure God punished me by giving me curly, frizzy hair.

The pressures of growing up in the Five Towns on Long Island in the 60s and 70s, an upwardly mobile Jewish neighborhood, and my mom’s strong conviction to control me and make me her “perfect” daughter were not a happy combo. I was born an artist, an individual thinker, and was more interested in making macramé belts, embroidering on work shirts, and hanging out at the free school; not exactly a match for my mom’s desires for me. My junior high school and high school yearbooks were before and after pictures for nose jobs. I didn’t see anything wrong with having one, if that’s what you wanted, but it wasn’t what I wanted. However, after enough comments from mom about my growing bump, I did become self-conscious if I knew someone was able to view my profile.

Then there was the rest of my body. I was a late developer and barely had breasts, and mom was convinced that falsies were the way to go. The day they came floating out in the swimming pool during a scuba diving lesson was most memorable and horrific. There’s nothing like being “found out.” And my hair, huge fights over my hair. By the time I was in fourth grade, they were having my hair professionally straightened. Soon thereafter, they switched to the home product, Curl Free. When that wore off, I was left spending hours straightening my hair using gigantic rollers and sitting under the bonnet hair dryer for hours with the tube burning my neck.

The summer I went to Europe to study art, I stopped straightening my hair. It was impossible to do it there. When I returned home with my long, thick, curly hair, you would have thought by my parents’ reaction that I was doing this to “put my father in his grave,” an expression he often used. Until the day he died, he was convinced that no man would marry me because of my unruly hair.

By junior year in high school, all I wanted was out—out of the house, away from the neighborhood, and to be among like-minded people. At the end of my sixteenth year, I got into university and moved 200 miles away. I no longer had to come home to hear the criticism and be controlled and punished for being me. What a relief! Now, I needed to build my confidence, find out who I was, and seek my own path.

Being an art major in a hippie school, which was a state university, I flourished and my friends and teachers all embraced my hair, my looks, my personality, and my talents. I spent years, decades trying to figure out my mother and work on our relationship. There were many bumps in the road.

Eventually, I became a television producer and filmmaker and I turned the cameras on myself and my mother in MY NOSE (, a short, funny film about her quest to get me to have a nose job. Based on the overwhelming response to the film, I realized I was dealing with a universal subject, that I had something to share that would help others: learning how to accept and love a critical parent. I developed “The Seven Healing Tools,” which I now teach in seminars.

I also realized that MY NOSE only scratched the surface of the highly complex and charged relationship between mother and daughter and I needed to go deeper. We are now completing the feature documentary, MY NOSE: THE BIGGER VERSION, which follows the evolution of my relationship with my mother from Mommie Dearest to Dear Mom.

Here are the Seven Tools that helped me get to where I am with my mother, the woman I ran from, the person I lived in fear of, who is today my closest friend, confidante, and favorite travel partner.

Understand your critical parent by learning about her/his past and what has led her/him to be the way she/he is.

Create distance from your critical parent. I moved away to university.

You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Create a support system of positive people.

This is one of the most important tools. If you want to get out of your mental bondage, you must learn to forgive them. They did the best they could. Once you learn about their wounds, you can change how you look at them. Often there is a wounded child in them.

By changing how you respond to them and their insults, you change the dynamics of the relationship.

You are not alone. Live life with openness and honesty. Find people with whom you can share.

You’ve got incredible material! Develop it, use it, write, keep a journal, blog, paint, and get it out. It’s priceless inspiration.

Check out Gayle’s “My Nose: The Bigger Version” here.

About the Author

gayleGayle Kirschenbaum
Gayle Kirschenbaum is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Her documentary short, MY NOSE, about her mother’s quest to get her to have a nose job played worldwide to rave reviews; the Washington Post said it showed “dazzling self-confidence”; The Jewish Week called it a “hilarious romp!” Kirschenbaum created several reality shows for Discovery and TLC, and her film, A DOG’S LIFE: A DOGAMENTARY, premiered on HBO. Gayle has been widely featured in the media, including the New York Times, NBC’s Today Show, CBS, Fox TV, Oxygen TV, Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post, and O magazine.

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