A Match Made in the O.R.
by Sala Levin
The dating ritual is replete with anxieties: What dress to wear? How long should I wait to call after the date? Is my nose so big that I’ll be single forever? Well, Orthodox denizens of greater Miami, Michael Salzhauer is here to help you with at least one of those worries. The plastic surgeon gained some notoriety last month for putting out a music video (called “Jewcan Sam”) in which a young man–played by the lead singer of The Groggers–with a prominent nose just can’t get the pretty girl to go on a date with him. In exchange for the band’s performance in the video, Salzhauer offered gratis nose jobs to any of its members. The lead singer took him up on it, but his character–now smooth-nosed–still didn’t get the girl. Now, Salzhauer is offering scholarships for free plastic surgery to Orthodox singles. Yes, really. We caught up with him to ask him about it. (The following is a lightly edited transcript.)
Is this for real? Are you serious about these scholarships?
Yes. I’ve done a fair amount of pro bono work over the years. I had been speaking with shadchans [matchmakers] for years, trying to tell them, “I’m here for you if you have clients you think could benefit but can’t afford it.” It’s still spoken about in hushed whispers, especially in Haredi communities. So I’ve been trying to coax them. They love the idea, but getting people to talk about it is kind of awkward. I’ve been getting a little bit of attention through this music video, so I’ve been using that to gain some attention for this free plastic surgery concept. It’s obviously not going to solve the shidduch crisis, but if it helps one person find their match, I think it’s worth the controversy.
How do you decide who gets a scholarship? What is the application process like?
This program is requiring a matchmaker to refer the patient so that I know that they’re seriously dating for marriage, that the shadchan thinks it would improve their chances, and that they don’t have the financial means to pursue plastic surgery otherwise.
How many will you grant? Will you perform any procedure requested?
If I get so busy that it’s overwhelming my practice I’d try to schedule them out or enlist the help of other plastic surgeons. By the nature of the community and the size of the issue, I don’t expect thousands of girls or boys. There’s no procedure that’s off the table. There are a lot of women with breast asymmetries, where one breast failed to develop, and especially in the Haredi communities, people are embarrassed to talk about it. That would be on the table. Even liposuction—if it’s a tiny area, I’d be happy to do those also. No procedures are off the table—it just has to be the right procedure for that person.
Who’s been applying?
The youngest one so far was 21 and I’ve received from people in their 40s and anything in between. I would say it’s about 70 percent female and 30 percent male.
Is plastic surgery really the answer for single people?
There’s no one answer for single people in general. However, I’ve seen in personal experience in my own practice girls and boys come in and they’re kind of shy and self-conscious, and plastic surgery gives them a huge boost in self esteem. They’re happier. They say, “What you did for me really opened up my life.” Parents tell me how much it opened up their children. I know from firsthand experience this does help people’s self-esteem: I had rhinoplasty, so I know how big a difference it can make. It’s something I believe in and that I’m passionate about. Is this going to solve all singles’ problems in the world? Of course not. But this is something that does help. I’ve reached a stage in my career that I have enough skill and experience that I can really help people. I’m trying to give back to the community that I’m part of. I understand this is controversial, but I think if it helps one girl or boy find their mate, it’s worth all the controversy.
You say that those under 18 can apply with parental consent. Do you have any qualms about performing surgery on minors? Should they even be thinking about marriage?
Of course they need parental consent, but I don’t have qualms about performing a rhinoplasty on a 14, 15 or 16 year old. We routinely pin back ears on seven- or eight-year-olds. I doubt that 14- or 15-year-olds are thinking about marriage. They usually don’t start dating until 17, 18 or 19, so I don’t think that will be an issue—but on the other hand, performing surgery on minors for cosmetic reasons has been done for a long, long time.
What has the community response been?
Surprisingly supportive, as controversial as the notion is. I think there’s general acceptance that it could help certain people. There are people out there that from the beginning don’t believe in plastic surgery, whatever that means. When I ask, “Well, if your children had crooked teeth and you took them to orthodontist and put metal braces and twisted their teeth, you wouldn’t say ‘Ugh, they’re so vain.’ You’d say, ‘Of course we’re straightening their teeth.’” That’s a purely cosmetic procedure. I don’t see where the moral argument comes in when you say straightening a crooked nose is different from straightening crooked teeth. It’s not like braces are necessary to eat or live. Neither is rhinoplasty, but it does enhance people’s self-esteem.