The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery Reaches Iran

Mehrdad Oskouei’s documentary “Nose Iranian Style” offers a fascinating (if depressing) look at the rhinoplasty capital of the world: Iran. Here’s the summary:

A large and growing percentage of . . . people in Iran [about 60-70,000 per year] . . . have their noses made smaller through rhinoplasty, even young Moslem women who hide most of their faces with traditional scarves. Filmmaker Mehrdad Oskouei explores this phenomenon [by interviewing] a number of teens who have either had the operation or are considering it, the parents to give their blessings to this practice (and their money to the plastic surgeon), and trends in Middle Eastern culture which may be contributing to this wave of new noses.

The film starts with a group of girls cheering upon hearing that Iran is “nose job” capital of the world, and a series of uncomfortable (if illuminating) encounters and montages follow. News reports have tracked the trend for a while, but the film does an extraordinary job juxtaposing the pre- and post-modern aspects of contemporary Iranian life that contribute to the pressure to abrade, upturn, and minimize noses. Though some religious authorities oppose the trend, they appear feckless throughout the film. (One plastic surgeon states that “Plastic surgery is better appearance for people, and I think God [would] like this.”) A few more thoughts on the comparative role of law and norms in addressing the rise of the rhinoplasties below.

The documentary script contains several provocative quotes from interviewees. Here’s a plastic surgeon attempting to explain the fad:

The youth are after identity, they are seeking acceptance. Different societies and their needs are rapidly changing. The young people are more sensitive and desire more excitement; they are after new issues. Our youth are no exception. The demands for change are in the face, especially the nose. You see the change of nose in a front and a silhouette angle.

What I found bizarre about this assertion is that virtually everyone in the film who deeply desires a nose job looks fine. . . as this dialogue suggests:

Filmmaker: Doctor, her nose is so beautiful, does she really need a nose job?

Dr.: It’s extraordinarily beautiful but she will become more beautiful.

Admittedly, a plastic surgeon does bring up a few pictures that are out of the ordinary, but these are skillfully balanced by the filmmaker with mishandled jobs that were genuinely disfiguring–and irreversible.

While the plastic surgeons rhapsodize about finding one’s own identity, the youths themselves offer a very different perspective. Attracting a marriage partner appears to be the key rationale, but some despairing social commentary emerges as well:

Girl: A girl that is more beautiful will have a better chance to be picked.

Girl: They girls must have a nose job, become beautiful and then get married.

Girl: There is a lack of husband[s in the country]…

Filmmaker: Which grade are you in? [10th Grade]

Girl: It’s a variety for us. We can’t wear an orange manteau in the street. So we are forced to have a nose job.

Girl: Unfortunately we are feeling vain and futile. And nothing is as it should be. We are always looking for a healthy and profound relationship and friendship, but we’re unsuccessful. The nose job is epidemic and everyone has caught it more or less.

As I’ve blogged before, the personal is inevitably political here, because of the positional pressure that prevalent cosmetic surgery can perpetuate. When one person in a group gets rhinoplasty, they may stand out positively. But when virtually everyone gets it, no one in that group ends up “ahead” of one another–but the few who are left out can be all the more stigmatized for being more unusual now.

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