Sunday, July 06, 2003

Kill me and make me beautiful

I got my haircut last night. It was like venturing into some secret, underground political organization. El took me to an unmarked building. (Okay, it may have been marked in some way that I did not recognize. My reading comprehension is pretty low.) The windows were completely shuttered. We knocked and entered a curtained entrance way. Pushing the curtains aside, we were there: the salon at last!

About ten women were quietly sitting on wooden folding chairs. There was a kind of dentist’s waiting room feel to the whole thing. As I spent more time there, I realized that the reason this felt like a dentist’s office was because most of these women were about to be subjected to the painful process of facial hair removal. Very few were there for a haircut alone. Ouch!

Posters of women with 80s hairstyles graced the walls. A gorgeous woman with really beautiful eyes and a good haircut was busy shaping the eyebrows of a woman in the barber’s chair.

I immediately thought that my good friend in Omaha would love this place. These women know what to do with thick eyebrows!

First there was some tweezing. Then there was this plucking thing that they do with thread. They take thread, make a loop, twist it, and then snap it on a woman’s face to pluck out small hairs.

Most women needed to do this hair removal process in stages. Tears in their eyes, they asked for breaks and sat down for about ten minutes to wait for their next painful session with the snapping thread.

When they were finished, the women had gorgeous, black eyebrows and clean faces.

“Don’t you want to do your eyebrows?”

“Heavy eyebrows are chic in Europe,” I joke. “Besides, I don’t like pain.”

“The more pain, the more beauty,” El says.

Later, when we are discussing my hairdressing experience, El’s mother says, “Just kill me and make me beautiful.”

Hijab, revisited

When I ask K’s neice and nephew who live in Ahwaz, what happens when women don’t follow the dress restrictions, they answer that the police harass them.

Ask K’s sisters, who live just south of Qom, the same question, and they answer that their neighbors harass them.

That’s the biggest difference between Arak and Ahwaz.

Last night an old friend of K’s sister visited us. This woman was dressed head-to-toe in a chador. (It was a very beautiful chador with blue flowers and a white head covering.) The conversation turned to dress restrictions. (I did not steer the conversation that way.) Soon, all of the women in the room were complaining. These women were angry. The woman in the chador said, “The restrictions are ridiculous. Women can decide how they want to dress all by themselves.”

Fa said, “Plenty of women choose to dress in a hijab outside of Iran without any harassment from the police. It is their choice.”

I said, “It is not the scarf itself that is a problem, it’s the restrictions.” I am often overwhelmed with an almost irresistible urge to rip off my scarf and throw it into the face of the revolutionary guards that we (fortunately) seldom see. When we see the guards, I have to walk by quickly to avoid displaying anger. It’s not easy for me.

Other women my age have more than 20 years experience being repressed and forced to be something they are not. Sometimes you can feel their anger hiding behind their impeccable manners. (Or am I just projecting? Let me know what you think.)

No comments: