Female commuters board the women-only section of a crowded public bus in central Tehran. (Bloomberg)

November 2, 2019

For the last three days, Marjan has been suffering from pain around her mouth. She can’t eat or talk, so, to ensure she opens her mouth as little as possible, she writes down whatever she needs to communicate.

The pain is the result of recent surgery to add a mole on her right cheek. “The doctor said the operation would take just 20 minutes, an easy operation with local anesthesia. But he didn’t say it would be so painful. Now he tells me that the pain is normal and will last around 10 days after the operation,” she tells me via text message.

Marjan is 32 years old and paid around $US 950 for the operation.“The doctor told me they would remove a small part of the muscle and fat tissue from the cheek. He said there was another way they could sew the part of the cheek where I wanted to have the mole, but he said he would not recommend it.”

The recent operation is not the first cosmetic surgery Marjan has had. She has also had two nose jobs, which cost her around $1900. But she is still not satisfied. “It could look better,” she says.

So would she undergo another surgery, despite the pain? “Cosmetic surgery is like labor pain,” she says. When women have their first baby, they can’t even think about being pregnant and having a child again, but after some years they want to have another child. I may forget the pain of this surgery and think about another one as soon as I get better and see my mole in the mirror.”

Parisa, 36, is a clinical secretary in the north of Tehran. She tells us that, despite the harsh financial situation for the majority of the population in Iran, the number of people wanting to have cosmetic surgery is on the rise.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean the patients have no financial problems or belong to the wealthy class,” Parisa tells me. “Lots of them are willing to pay by installments, or they are young women who are in relationships with older wealthy men who take on the responsibility of paying the surgery.”

I talked to a sociologist based in Tehran about the growing trend for cosmetic surgery in Iran — a business that has been booming for close to two decades in the country. “Unfortunately (Iranian) society established a materialistic and physical point of view for everything; celebrities, and especially actors and footballers, promote this mentality in the way they dress and behave.” 

Anxiety and Hopelessness

The sociologist says these surgeries take place everywhere in the world, but that Iran’s youth are particularly drawn to them — probably due to the specific constraints, both cultural and economic, that currently bind Iranians. “Generally those who want cosmetic surgery are people who have no plans for their life,” he says.  “At the age of 32, they realize they have a low [level of] education, no job or a bad financial situation. As they can’t face the reality about their lives, they start to criticize their own body; they think they have a big nose or too much fat around their bellies or have droopy eyelids.”

Parisa talks to the patients she works with to get a sense of their motivation. “Almost all of them are anxious,” she says. “The result is never predictable. The same doctor can perform surgery on a patient’s nose and it looks great, but the same surgery performed by the same doctor looks bad on another face.”

The sociologist I spoke to, who said he wanted to remain anonymous, said another reason cosmetic surgery was so common in Iran was that people were not getting married as young as they once were. The marriage age in Iran has increased for three reasons, he says: the financial situation in general, irresponsibility among many young men, as well as an increasing popularity in luxury lifestyles, especially among young women. “This has led to an obsession with marriage among young people,” the sociologist says. “To boost their confidence before getting married, they undergo plastic surgeries …Young women feel better and don’t think that they are unmarried because they are fat or don’t have attractive genitalia or have a big nose.”

He emphasizes that it’s not just single people who opt for these surgeries; they are popular with married people too. “Often middle-aged women and men who have plastic surgery haven’t had a satisfying marriage and are not happy with their lives. Following their friends’ or their therapists’ advice, they decide to change their lifestyle, live for themselves and enjoy their lives. They often have low self-esteem and are lost and confused in their own life — and this ends in liposuction or hair transplants or other cosmetic surgeries.”

Although breast enlargement is the most popular cosmetic surgery around the world, in Iran, nose jobs remain the most sought-after procedure.

The Cost of Looking Good

Parisa says the costs for these procedures can be expensive. “Our clinic is quite famous in the north of Tehran. The cost of surgeries in our clinic is higher than others. But we also have promotions and allow payments by installment. The most expensive surgery is liposuction, which costs around US$ 7,000; nose surgery is the second most expensive, which is between $4,000 and $6,000. Breast enlargement, which is another common surgery at our clinic costs, between $1,800 and $3,500. Lifting surgeries are next, costing between $1,000 and $1,600, and mole surgery is between $800 and $1,100. Skin lasering and eyelid surgeries are the least expensive surgeries, and cost around $700.”

Parisa also points out the side effects, discomfort, and various complications that can take place after surgeries. “Liposuction is the most dangerous surgery — there is a 5 percent risk of death after having the surgery —so therefore [in order to make sure it is safe], it is the most expensive. Nose surgery comes after; a patient can’t sleep properly for a month. Breast enlargement is another complicated surgery; sometimes the silicone gel leaks and causes trouble for the patient. Another very dangerous surgery is mole surgery. In this relatively new surgery, you paralyze a facial nerve on the cheek to create the mole. This is a very popular surgery these days. A friend of mine who had this surgery couldn’t eat for two weeks because of an inflammation in her mouth and on her gums.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, statistics show that​ women have more cosmetic surgery than men, so they drive the market. Are these women spending substantial funds on these surgeries — sometimes posing considerable risks to their health — for marriage, to boost their self-esteem, or simply to alleviate some of the negative realities of life in Iran today?

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.