Day Five: Disoriented youth, nuclear plants, nose jobs

Day Five: Disoriented youth, nuclear plants, nose jobs
ID : N-2878 Date : 2018/09/12 - 12:02

(Persia Digest) - On a final day in Iran, USA Today's reporter, Kim Hjelmgaard, found young people on drugs and a doctor who explained why some Iranians hate their noses and choose plastic surgery to change their look.

I was back in Tehran, the final full day of my trip.

We had taken a more direct route on the drive back from Isfahan, with just a few quick stops at service stations that had all the amenities you might find on the New Jersey Turnpike: fast-food options, public restrooms, disoriented families with young, slightly car sick and bored kids emerging from overpacked, cramped cars to the stench of gas.

The drive back had taken us past some of Iran’s key nuclear sites, including its largest uranium-enrichment facility, in Natanz. But it was hard to see much of anything from the road speeding by, and we were warned repeatedly not to stop to try to take any pictures because it would almost certainly lead to being questioned, or worse, by police.

While I was finding the Iranian people courteous, warm and generous beyond even what I had been told to expect by seasoned Iran hands, it was also a challenge not to forget that this country is not a carefree and completely easy place to be a journalist, especially for local reporters, who bear the brunt of the regime’s intolerance for perceived threats against its national security or ability to maintain control.

Unauthorized images of its nuclear facilities and military bases top this list.

Still, one of the most heavily guarded areas I saw in all of Iran was a large compound in central Tehran that houses the offices of its state television networks. As all good revolutionaries know, seizing the means to communicate on a large scale to the people can determine whether a regime survives. 

I was reminded of the power of perceptions and the media's role in it when I met up with a doctor who related a story about a couple of surgeons from Belgium who had recently left their wives at the airport in Brussels in tears because they feared they would never see them again if they went to Iran for a medical conference. "They thought this of Iran," this doctor said, a note of incredulity rising in his voice. "It is so safe here."

A few hours later this idea was put to the test in a different way when we approached a group of about a dozen young adults in a park. My photographer asked them if USA TODAY could take their portraits because they represented a side of Iran not often seen by westerners. They approved.

A few of the women in the group had discarded their hijab to reveal short, fashionable hair. The men wore T-shirts emblazoned with the names of western bands and corporate logos. They sat in a tight circle smoking cigarettes and playing a card game. One of them was quietly strumming a guitar.

However, when I went inside a building nearby for an interview, several of the men in the group turned on my photographer, pushing him around a bit and waving a knife in his face. They were high on drugs and were looking for money.

"Why don’t the morality police arrest them," I later asked the photographer, who had previously experienced similar groups of disaffected Iranian youth. "Nobody knows," he said. "Some people think the government allows people like this to behave in this way to relieve a little of the pressure they face from those who are opposed to all its rules."

Whatever the case, it was an Iranian scene that rarely makes foreign headlines.

Another example of this, albeit quite a different one, is the popularity of plastic surgery, specifically nose jobs.

It is hard to walk down any street in Iran and not come across the nose job’s telltale sign: bandages fixed across the nasal bridge. 


Read more:

► Day Four: Talk of Iran's economic malaise

► Day Three: A city where Trump is mocked as leader of the free world

 Day Two: Iranians explain their 'misunderstood' country

 Day 1 of trip: US reporter troubles with Tehran traffic


I saw these bandages everywhere.

Alireza Mesbahi, the plastic surgeon who had related the anecdote about the scared wives of the Belgian doctors, said there were no official studies explaining why nose jobs were so prevalent in Iran or indeed charting how many people have the procedure each year, but he believed "most girls in Iran want to change the shape" of their nose.

 

"When you look at images of Persian kings from 2,500 years ago the typical characteristics of the Iranian nose were the same as they are now: Large, with a hump, and with a droopy nasal tip and thick skin," he said. "This is undeniably the Persian nose. The shape of the eyes, lips, the cheeks – everything else about the face in Iran is generally excellent and very attractive, but our noses they are not so good.”

Still, Mesbah noted that it was important to distinguish between physical attributes that can enhance beauty but are not the same thing as beauty. 

“To be attractive is not just about having a better nose,” he said.

Mesbahi said that most of the surgeons in Iran who perform nose jobs are trained in Iran and that the procedure is considered to be cheap here compared to other countries, although he said there was no average price, that is was impossible to give even an estimate of the cost and that sanctions have had no impact on demand for the surgery.

He said that while more women than men have the operation, that is changing and that approximately 30 percent of his clients are men, up from 10 percent over the last decade. (Mesbahi added that Iran is the only country in the Middle East where transgender surgery is legal, although it is relatively rare and the official numbers of cases are limited.)

Later that evening, I met up with a brother and sister who had both had nose jobs.

"I had a beak like a bird," the sister, Niloofar Chegini, 22, said, as she explained that she inherited the original shape of her nose from her father’s side of the family.

Today, Chegini’s nose is smooth and straight and symmetrical. She spoke disparagingly of the "ski-slope" nose that can be a sign of overly aggressive rhinoplasty. 

"All my friends are doing it," her brother, Mohammad Javad Chegini, 19, chipped in, referring to the peer pressure he said exists around having nose jobs in Iran.

 

Both he and his sister expressed surprise when I suggested that nose jobs, while a relatively normal procedure in the West, were not something most young adults would expect to have purely for reasons of vanity.

"Social media puts more pressure us," Niloofar said.

"I actually had a good nose," Mohammad added. "I take after my mother’s side of the family, not my father’s. But I had broken it several times playing sports, and it had moved completely over to one side of my face. I had reached a point where I was breathing out of just one hole in my nose. It was the logical thing to do," he said.

His sister looked at him and nodded her head and could only agree.

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