In our Western countries, plastic surgery is often deemed as something secretive, taboo even. The more natural the modifications look, the more highly the surgeon is praised, as their work can go undetected. Go to Tehran, and you will see something entirely different, a society dominated by plastic surgery, and more specifically, facial alteration. You will see women, sometimes even men, going about their everyday business, hopping on buses where one is separated by sex, buying freshly baked naan from the baker’s just around the corner, all while proudly displaying white plasters on their noses. One may begin to wonder: What does this symbolize?
I asked myself just that when I was seven, having seen these overt displays on the women selling jewellery at the bazaar, the first time I ever went to Tehran, and I am sure those unaware of the Iranian population’s relationship with beauty standards would ask the same.
Firstly, you may be confused about the very country, whose capital is being called as such. It’s Iran, an Islamic Republic, which actively enforces modesty through the implementation of hijab amongst all women in the country. It would make sense to assume that the concept behind plastic surgery, enhancing one’s features, is anything but modest.
However, under Islamic law and its interpretations in Iran, cosmetic surgery is allowed. This culture of altering our faces to be more Western-like is by no means new, and has existed before the Islamic regime even started, especially among the middle and upper classes of Iran at the time. And yet, the practice has picked up severe momentum following the Revolution of 1979.
It cannot be denied that Iranians’ fervent desire for such alterations come from the aspirations to look and appear more Western. Having a smaller, flatter nose is what makes oneself beautiful, in many’s eyes, and this beauty is tied to Western and Eurocentric standards of beauty. This “badge of honour” emanating from one’s nose marks not only your social class but makes your priorities known, priorities of presentability and respectability. Women wear these plasters for months after having healed, to show that they too can afford the procedure. But, there is another aspect to rhinoplasty and its appeal.
In a country where women are told and made to cover almost all of their body, bar their face, it seems only natural for Iranian women to want to have some means of autonomy over the one part of their body they can legally and outwardly show. This autonomy comes from the ability to change. Now, the fact that the majority use this opportunity to change their features to a more Anglicised version is, as mentioned, from the innate pressure in Iranian society to look less typically Persian. It is nevertheless true that a practice deemed somewhat inhibiting of one’s uniqueness in much of the Western world is the means of expression, and dare I say rebellion, in Iran.
This pressure is not confined to the borders of Iran, far from it, in fact. It has seeped into every diasporic community, most notably in the United States. And we can see, that the reasons for the large numbers of young Iranian-American women getting nose jobs are not because of the lack of control over their bodies: in any given part of the country, they are far less policed over their bodies than women in Iran are.
Girls receive recommendations for doctors from family members, parents surprise and possibly elate their daughters with money saved for the procedure, they book holidays over the summer to go to Iran and recover there, where they would never look out of place as they would in their home country. And it is most usually young girls, told from a young age that their nose is too big, but that it is nothing to worry about, as the women who have come before them have solved it, just as they will, one day.There is something so intrinsically Iranian about altering an unquestionably Middle-Eastern part of the face. We think badly of our noses, its bumps and size, and are happy to see a solution. This rhetoric is undeniably damaging, yet is one which Iranians all over the world maintain.
Love or hate this phenomenon, the trend of nose jobs and plastic surgery is here to stay, both in Iran itself and Iranian communities elsewhere. However, its implications are more damaging to young Iranians than we know.