In a conservative society where all women in public must wear at least a scarf over their hair and neck, cosmetic surgery has boomed, with a nose job seen as a way to perfect women’s most visible asset. In Iran’s largest cities it is easy to spot women - but also men - with bandages on their noses, flaunting the fact they recently went under the knife.
But the quest to look better goes much further, including breasts enlargement and iposuction. And Iranian women - not just the wealthy in the capital - are also paying for less invasive cosmetic changes. Botox injections in cheeks or foreheads to conceal wrinkles, collagen in lips to make them fuller, or eyebrow tattoos to replace painful plucking or threading - removing eyebrow hairs with a piece of string - are becoming common.
Television is playing a part is the cosmetic surgery craze. Hugely popular South American and Turkish soap operas, beamed into homes via banned satellite dishes, show actresses looking beautiful after plastic surgery. Such channels, watched by more than half of the population, broadcast round-the-clock advertisements for nose jobs, slimming creams and stomach-sucking corsets.
According to official figures, up to 40,000 cosmetic surgeries take place in Iran each year, says doctor Javad Amirizad, a member of the Iranian Association of Cosmetic and Plastic Surgeons. More than 60 percent are nose jobs. But he says the actual number is much higher as official statistics do not include operations by nonspecialist surgeons who are cashing in on people’s desire to improve their looks.
The trend has seen the Islamic Republic jump into the world’s top 10 countries performing plastic surgery. In 2013 it ranked fourth worldwide - after Brazil, Mexico and the United States - for nose jobs, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported.
Not just for women
Patients also fly in for cosmetic procedures, Amirizad says. “We get them from Iraq and Azerbaijan, but we mostly get Iranian women from abroad who know an operation is much cheaper in Iran than in the United States or other European countries,” says Amirizad.
And these days, plastic surgery is not just for women. “Twenty years ago, about five percent of men wanted nose jobs,” adds the surgeon. “Today it’s 35 percent.” Amirizad sees this as a sign of progress: “It shows our society is modernising.”
But some Iranians are saddened by a trend that may be going too far. Earlier this year a Facebook page called “Iranian Women Up Close” asked followers to post pictures of their noses to push back against beauty being defined as a surgically enhanced concept. Several hundred women did so under the heading “Pictures of My Natural Nose”.
Some women who have had surgery understand the debate. “Girls now all have the same type of nose - a very thin one with an upturned end like a doll!”