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Rich Iranians pay for nice noses

For a visitor to Tehran, the number of young women -- as well as some men -- sporting post-surgery gauze on their faces is striking.

fashion and trends Updated: Jul 16, 2007 15:47 IST

Iranians flouting Islamic street dress codes may risk being hauled in by police for questioning by "psychologists", but the frequent sight of bandaged faces from cosmetic surgery raises not so much as an official eyebrow.

For a visitor to Tehran, the number of young women -- as well as some men -- sporting post-surgery gauze on their faces is striking. It prompted one US newspaper last year to label Iran a "nose-job nation".

"Nose surgery is very popular," said Iranian plastic surgeon Nabiollah Shariati, as veiled women filled his waiting room eager to go under the knife. "It makes people feel good about life and themselves."

Business is brisk for hundreds of doctors specialising in this highly visible trend in the conservative Islamic state, as nose and other facial surgery enhances the only features an Iranian woman is not obliged to conceal.

More commonly associated with the rich and famous in Hollywood, surgery is in demand among trendy and well-off Iranians keen to correct perceived flaws in their looks.

Speaking in the green marble-floored office of his private clinic in an affluent part of Tehran, Shariati said he carried out two or three nose operations a day, or 3,000 during 16 years in the profession. "Every year the figures go up," he said.

"Compared with the United States and European countries they are much higher in Iran." This may seem a contradiction in a country where since the 1979 Islamic revolution sharia law has discouraged women from seeking to attract the attention of the opposite sex.

Besides covering their hair and bodies with the Muslim headscarf and loose clothing, such as the head-to-toe black chador, women who use heavy make-up are frowned on and those who transgress modesty rules can be fined, lashed or jailed.

But a senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi, said Islam allowed facial surgery as long as it did not harm the person: "It is permitted based on Islamic rules," he said. "Being beautiful is not something prohibited in Islam."

Nose Reduction Shariati said the authorities had not raised any objections to his line of work, and he believes the Islamic dress code actually helps explain why nose surgery has become so popular in the Middle Eastern country. "Because of the hijab women have to wear the face becomes the most prominent part of the body," he said.

Reducing the size of the nose was the most common request: "Iranian noses are on average a little bit larger than European and Asian noses."

One of his patients, Arezoo Abbasi, complained of her big nose as she prepared for the hour-long procedure dressed in a blue hospital-style gown.

"The beauty of Iranian women can only be seen in their faces," she said shortly before anaesthetics put her to sleep. Iranian-American journalist Azadeh Moaveni describes in her 2005 book "Lipstick Jihad" how demand for cosmetic facial surgery surged after the revolution, when women were banned from revealing the shape of their bodies.

"It was an investment in feeling modern, in the midst of the seventh-century atmosphere the mullahs (Iran's ruling clerics) were trying to create," she wrote.

"It assuaged so many urges at once -- to look better, to self-express, to show off that you could afford it, to appear Westernised," Moaveni added.

Shariati said he charges between 15 million and 20 million rials ($1,600-$2,200) a time -- cheap by Western standards but a considerable amount in a country where many earn the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a month.

I want a beautiful daughter Haniyeh Asli, a 20-year-old waiting for a check-up a few days after surgery, said her mother had encouraged her to go ahead with it and both were very happy with the result. "I want my daughter to be beautiful," said her mother, Manijeh E'tesami.

"Her nose had a little bit of a high ridge and she also had some breathing difficulties." She would have surgery herself if she were younger, she said, adding Iranians tend to have large noses: "It seems to be something genetic."

Shariati said most of his patients were women between 20 and 30 but more men were also coming to see him, even though they do not face the same dress restrictions. Mohammad Nasiri, a 20-year-old with long black hair, said he opted for surgery because his nose was slightly crooked.

"Reaching a certain age you become more conscious about how you look," he said. "I have quite a fine face and the nose sort of stuck out. Now it is more balanced."

But not everybody is satisfied: "It was much better before," said 28-year old Roya Soltanian of her long, thin nose.

Others disapprove of the trend altogether. "I think I'm the only one who is not here for nose surgery," said Hadi Salimi, 27, whose baby son was suffering ear problems. "I feel sorry for some of these women," he said.

"What matters is inner beauty."