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How Jennifer Grey reclaimed her life after plastic surgery left her unrecognizable

At 62, the actress wants to help other women embrace the second half of their lives without regret.
Late Night with Seth Meyers - Season 9
Jennifer Grey during an interview on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" on May 4, 2022.Lloyd Bishop / NBC


That’s how actress Jennifer Grey, 62, refers to the multi-decade fascination with the size and shape of her nose.

After being catapulted to mega-fame in 1987 after playing Frances “Baby” Houseman in “Dirty Dancing,” Grey’s career stalled. And though she was personally happy with her nose— and its distinct bump—she underwent plastic surgery at the age of 29 to boost her career.

“When my parents and their parents fled Ukraine and came to this country, everybody was trying to look American,” Grey, who is of Jewish descent, explained. “It was standard to change your last name … and to change your nose so you could be an actor…or just be considered pretty. There was a lot of self-loathing attached to our natural noses.”

After two procedures, Grey recounted how her new nose made her virtually unrecognizable. She had changed her appearance to look “less Jewish” and more suitable for a variety of parts, yet she still couldn’t get the types of roles she wanted because she no longer looked like herself. The decision plagued her for years.

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in "Dirty Dancing."
Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in "Dirty Dancing."Vestron Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Even so, Grey wrote in her new memoir, “Out of the Corner,” that the experience eventually became “one of the single best things that ever happened to me.”

Grey decided to address “Schnozageddon” head-on by detailing her physical changes—and how they occurred—in the prologue of her book. She chose to start the book with that topic because she had spent decades with people making assumptions about her.

“It was not only completely inaccurate, but it was also really hurtful and offensive to me,” Grey said. “It mischaracterized me and my journey. I loved what I looked like [before]. I didn’t think I was perfect. I struggled [with my appearance] the way most people do, especially if you don’t look like the prettiest girl in the class. But I think even those girls struggle because self-criticism is a cultural epidemic.”

After her first surgery, Grey was thrilled with the way she looked. Though her doctor had wanted to create an entirely new nose for her, Grey had insisted that the doctor simply “fine tune” the shape of her nose to make it more photogenic. Even though the resulting nose was slightly bigger than the original, the bump was gone. Grey said she started working “non-stop” for the first time in her life.

Then, less than a year after the surgery, Grey noticed a slight irregularity: a tiny bit of cartilage was visible under the surface of her nose. She underwent a second surgery to correct the issue, and when she woke up, she discovered that she looked completely different. So different, in fact, that when she attended a splashy event just a few weeks later—her first since “Dirty Dancing” opened—the paparazzi didn’t recognize her.

She had become anonymous.

When the public got wind of the situation, Grey felt like she had become a punch line. She was unable to nab acting roles and she often had to insist that she was, in fact, the famous Hollywood actress to people who didn’t recognize her.

This experience, Grey said, “jettisoned her into the dark night of the soul.”

Growing up with parents who successfully earned a living as actors made Grey said she sought validation through public approval, recognition and fame. After the second surgery, she felt she was stripped of everything she needed to value herself.

Grey kept thinking that public infatuation with her appearance would “just go away,” but it didn’t. However, “being stuck in suffering was not my jam,” she said. “I became open and willing to see my life and my choices from a different perspective and with a different narrative.”

She continued, “It made it easier—if not essential—to surrender. I actively chose to figure out on my own terms who I was.”

In reexamining her life, Grey noticed that she wasn’t the only one chasing perfection.

She said, “It's become so normal for all of us to look for some kind of perfection. And I think it's really destructive.” Grey is shocked by how deeply engrained self-bullying has become in our society. As a self-described, overly-empathetic person, she often notices when people say, “’I’m old,’ or, ‘I'm fat,’ or, I look like sh--.’ Why is it so hard for us to all this love and accept ourselves in this culture?”

Once Grey began to appreciate herself—both inside and out—she began to see changes in her personal and professional life.

She gave birth to her daughter Stella, to whom she dedicated her book, when she was 41, and she dove headfirst into motherhood, a role she has cherished. Eventually, Grey began reappearing on television, most notably partnering with Derek Hough on season 11 of “Dancing with the Stars.” Although she endured the pain of a ruptured disc during the show’s finale, Grey was crowned champion that season.

Now at 62, Grey wants to help other women embrace the second half of their lives without regret.

She said, “We’re all decaying from the moment we’re born. Why is that a bad thing? Let’s look at it as: ‘I’ve never been wiser.’ When I had everything in front of me and my skin was taut, I didn’t feel beautiful. I feel more beautiful now.”

Grey noted that this chapter of her life is going “really fast…and it’s just getting good.” She continued, “I just want to enjoy this part as much as I can. There’s no shame in anything that’s happened in the past. It happened just the way it was supposed to happen to get me here. And I have the resilience to know that no matter what happens, I will deal with it.”