“Wherever I go, when people hear that plastic surgery is what I write about, all conversation stops,” says Joan Kron. “Chairs get closer to me. People are confessing to me, okay?”
During 25 years as a consulting editor at Allure, Kron collected a lot of confessions, and she’s not done yet. At age 89, she’s just directed her first feature documentary, Take My Nose…Please! Women, Comedy & Plastic Surgery. [http://www.takemynoseplease.com/] Like Kron herself, it’s smart, substantial, and funny as hell.
Kron’s interest in cosmetic surgery dates back to her own (first) facelift. Afterward, she convinced her bosses at Allure that plastic surgery shouldn’t be a secret; it should be her beat. She went on to become an authority on the field, from observing surgery firsthand to reporting on extreme-makeover shows like The Swan.
In Take My Nose, Kron serves up a wealth of historical background along with the celebrity clips we love. (Still the winner: Cher, from 2002: “If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.”)
But the film—which also features queer favorite funny women Lisa Lampanelli, Roseanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, and Judy Gold (below)—takes its heart from the story of comic actress Jackie Hoffman (above). Hoffman made the leap this year to queer-icon superstardom thanks to her performance in TV’s Feud as Mamacita, Joan Crawford’s long-suffering maid. But in Take My Nose, none of that has happened yet. Hoffman is just a New York theater performer who’s considering having some work done, because where others see a great character face, she sees an ugly girl. Would plastic surgery help—or hurt?
For Kron, Hoffman’s story proves that every plastic surgery decision is complicated. “It’s not like covering gall bladder operations,” she says. “Nobody’s emotionally attached to their gall bladder. But my god, when it comes to somebody’s face and body, there are reasons people want these things. I really like to understand what’s driving this, and that’s what my movie is about.”
Why did you choose to focus your film on women comics?
They’re the only ones who tell the truth! Politicians are doing tons of plastic surgery, and Hollywood is doing tons of plastic surgery, but the only people you’ll ever actually hear confessing are comedians.
Do you know a lot of Hollywood plastic surgery secrets?
People would write to me [at Allure] and say, “Who did this and who did that,” and they’d want me to be the person who outed people. The dream is to have the doctor that worked on, say, Barbra Streisand. People believe that stars get better surgery, when really they get worse, usually, because they often look for deals. Even if they choose their own doctor, they’re expecting that the doctor should do it for nothing—and then they don’t really want to talk about [the doctor’s work] anyway.
Why are we so judgmental about people who’ve had plastic surgery?
Part of it is jealousy. How dare they? Part of it is fear that the bar is being set higher—fear that if everybody gets prettier and I don’t, then I’m going to be left behind. In men there’s a fear that if their wife becomes too beautiful, she’ll leave them—and she probably will!
How do you see that play out in the gay community? In gay relationships, should I especially be making sure I look good?
I do think men are very worried about aging. Men tend to do a couple of things. They do their eyes, and they do these little bulges that come out over the waistline. A lot of gay men are very involved with their abs, the six-pack. Outlining the six-pack is something surgery can do with liposuction.
One doctor you interview talks about “danger patients”—people who want endless procedures because they suffer from body shame. You illustrate with photos of Michael Jackson.
There’s a saying in Hollywood: You have to decide whether you want to look good across the breakfast table, or you want to look good across an amphitheater. Michael Jackson was recognizable from a great distance, and it served him. It was publicity for him. But he didn’t do it for publicity purposes. His father always told him his nose was too big. Michael became that person who, just like a woman who was fat once and can never see herself as thin—he could never see his nose as smaller. When he looked in the mirror, it was just too big. That is a sickness. It’s also a choice in life. It’s not against the law.
Joan Rivers is another subject in your film. Did you know her?
I did know Joan Rivers. I did the definitive story about Joan’s plastic surgery for Allure. She gave me permission to talk to her doctors, and, more than that, she gave her doctors permission to talk to me. I was able to put together the whole history of her plastic surgery.
And you kept in touch?
The last time I talked to her was about three months before she died. I said, “Look, Joan, I’ve been talking about this movie; it’s really happening.” She said, “Oh my god, I have to be in it, I must be in it!” So I got busy shooting, and she got busy promoting a book, and, alas, she died. It’s so sad. But she’s in the film in her own way.
Joan’s appearance changed a lot over the years. As you say, I guess it was great PR for her.
She looked fantastic at some point. [Pause] That’s all I’m saying. I understood where it was coming from. Not only from her own insecurity, but also because she knew that if she let herself go, what do you think people would have said? “Oh, my god, look at her, doesn’t she look like an old hag!” You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
What’s next for you, now that you’re 89?
You have to forget my age. I’m not like a little old lady. I’m not like Grandma Moses, who woke up one day and started painting. I brought Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground to Philadelphia. My husband and I had a buffalo ranch. I was the style director. I have my own archive in the Smithsonian Institution. I can do anything, frankly. Wait till you see the pins we designed for this movie. They say “Go Tuck Yourself.”
Take My Nose… Please! is in theaters now.