In the 1990s, there was a surge in cosmetic surgery amongst western women. I blame this on Baywatch. Suddenly, a caricature of what it was to be a woman was becoming a very real and everyday reality. Today, it is nothing short of common, with everyone and their sister going under the knife for one reason or another. In fact, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that in 2006 nearly 11 million cosmetic plastic surgeries were performed in the United States alone.
In Iran, the trend for undergoing cosmetic surgery began when Ayatollah Khomeini gave his official seal of approval to the practice in 1979 and for a long time, Iran has been known as a cosmetic surgery hotspot, with three thousand plastic surgeons operating in Tehran alone. One doctor Navab, quoted by Frances Harrison for the BBC, claimed that he had performed 30,000 nose jobs in his career. It has been widely noted that the nose job is one of the most common procedures an Iranian man or woman choose to have. The main reason given is to make one more beautiful.
Now, I know a beautiful man, who so happens to come from Iran. He is so beautiful that I have always imagined his profile featured on a frieze worthy of the walls of Persepolis. What I particular liked about him, however, is no longer a feature on his exquisite face because for professional reasons, he decided to saw it down and soften it with cosmetic surgery. I can honestly say a part of me mourned for his nose, and what was once a dynamic profile that whispered a heritage so clearly visible to me. But then again, he is also an actor working in a western market.
Perhaps there is a correlation here. From what I have been told, Iranian actors can sometimes get a bum deal working in the West. For one, they are often typecast as terrorists, smugglers or dodgy millionaires because unfortunately, leading roles are hard to come by. This is a shame, because the actor I am talking about possesses untold talents with a range of emotions and characters based on a UK upbringing and exposure to international film. The only thing he lacks is the European features required for the target audience, hence, the removal of his very Iranian feature, that gorgeous nose.
In Iran, the popularity of button noses could also be attributed to exposure to western media. Although officially banned in Iran, it is not uncommon for middle-class families to subscribe to satellite TV where young women and men are confronted by the glamorous images of Hollywood, where plastic surgery is as common as a cup of tea. Thus young, self-conscious, fashion-savvy Iranians are finding kindred spirits and role models transmitted into their homes. Like the rest of us living in the West, they are able to pick apart and scrutinise the world’s ‘most beautiful people’ and if they have the money, they can choose to become even more like them.
It is important to note, these perspectives of beauty encouraged by western media do not only have such an effect in Iran. In Hong Kong and Japan, women undergo nose surgery to create a sharper profile inspired by delicately angular models whose faces are splashed across billboards and television screens. There is also a huge demand for eye surgery to fold the traditionally concealed Asian eyelid into a more western shape. What is demonstrated by this need for surgery in Hong Kong, Japan and Iran, is that the natural features associated with cultural genetics are deemed unappealing. Indirectly, the act of plastic surgery could be seen as a denouncement of one’s culture.
Perhaps this is why my heart fell when I saw this Iranian man’s new face. It was as if he was renouncing his own innate beauty that was individual to him. The obvious argument against surgery is that artificially improving one’s god-given features is unnatural. And if people no longer accept what nature has given them, doesn’t that suggest they will not accept what nature has given their children? The logical evolution from the practice of surgical enhancement is genetic engineering, where people can cut ‘problems’ at the source and eradicate the undesirable big nose gene right from a child’s conception.
At the same time, physical improvement is also a reflection of an increasingly commercial world that is determined to delete boundaries and consequently merge all cultures into one, all in the name of a global village that is taking form as we speak. As a result, new composite images of beauty are being formed, with the positive argument that physical aspects of all cultures are now being picked out and held up as beautiful. Where this cataloguing will take us, we cannot be sure. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter if cosmetic surgery is right or wrong, nor does it matter if you agree with it. In an increasingly designer world we must make room for designer ideals. If there is free choice, then let it be.