Like many 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, grappling with self identity is a lifelong struggle. I am far too British for the motherland—Iran; but look too foreign to belong in the country I was born and raised in—the UK.
My body image and how I perceive beauty in myself and others has certainly been impacted by this.
Traditionally, the sole job of an Iranian woman is to look beautiful.
As soon as she is of age, marriage is at the forefront of conversation, and family members feel as though they have an input on who the husband should be.
Women must be mindful of their weight, their hair, their makeup, their nails; while waxing off all body hair in the run-up to meeting suitors.
If you are a size 10 as a young woman, with chipped nails and a monobrow, you might as well have be a morbidly obese monster.
I remember being around four or five years old in Iran, when a relative took one look at me and said, “you’ll need to have your nose operated on when you’re older.”
I was petrified.
What’s wrong with my nose? What are they going to do to me?
As a chubby child with pale skin and freckles on my face, I started to put Iranian women on a pedestal; with their thick dark hair, bold eyebrows, big beautiful eyes, and effortlessly slim figures. I want to look like that when I’m older, I thought. I was aware that people from all sorts of different backgrounds found Iranian women to be beautiful, and so that’s what I aspired to.
It’s no surprise, with these relentless beauty standards in Iran, that cosmetic surgery is rife. It’s up there with Thailand and L.A. Rhinoplasty experts carry out multiple surgeries a day now, and make a lot of money. Botox, lip fillers, and face lifts are incredibly popular too, and butt lifts are starting to become the new trend.
Where did this come from?
Some of my friends in Iran have suggested it’s the Kardashians, and that men prefer curvier features on a woman now. Instead of remarks made by friends and family about your appearance, it’s social media and the influencers and models on there making you feel like shit.
In 2016, I planned an impromptu trip to go to Iran, having not been there for seven years. It was the summer before my final year at uni, and it seemed like the perfect time to reconnect with my roots.
A week before my flight, I was talking to some friends about how excited I was, and I suddenly thought how funny it would be if I got a nose job.
At that point, I didn’t have any insecurities about my nose or any other facial features; I just thought it would be a great story to tell after I got it done. I immediately called my mum and got her to reach out to some relatives for any recommended doctors; and an appointment was quickly arranged for me the day after my arrival.
After three and a half hours under the knife, I woke up dazed and confused, with two tampons up my nostrils (to soak up all the blood).
I couldn’t eat properly for weeks, and I had to sleep upright. The tampons got pulled out after two days, and it felt like the nurse was pulling out my brain. I was recommended different juices and drinks from women who conquered this surgery before, so I drank a lot of pineapple juice and had a lot of Arnica.
I would FaceTime my mum and sister every day so that they could see my progress and make fun of my swollen and bruised face; all the while wondering what the hell I had done to myself, and regretting my stupidly spontaneous decision.
However, after weeks of bandages and plasters, I was able to uncover a very beautiful new nose, and instantly felt elated.
When I came back to the UK, I received a lot of attention from my uni mates at the start of the new term; and actually, more male attention. It’s funny how I didn’t think my original nose was a problem, until seeing the before and after photos.
At this point in my life I continued putting Iranian women on a pedestal; and copied the weight watching, the bold makeup, the fresh manicures, and the laser hair removal.
Earlier this year, another spontaneous decision had me booking a flight to Iran for the summer. However, this trip was different to all of the previous ones.
Maybe something in me switched, but I no longer looked up to these women. I found their conversations about clothes and hair colour far too superficial; and found myself getting angered by any comments directed at me.
One thing to know about Iranians is that they have no social filter.
I had distant relatives comment on my weight, my body shape, the highlights in my hair, and my mild acne.
Had I asked for their opinion about any of these matters?
Absolutely not. But that didn’t stop them from giving it to me anyway.
Something else that struck me, which I hadn’t experienced before, was meeting new people and having them assume I wasn’t Iranian.
Did my new nose look that natural?
How ironic that the changes I’ve made to my appearance in order to copy Iranian women now make me look more western!
At the end of the trip, I decided that it was time to stop comparing myself to these women; and it made me lean into my Britishness a lot more.
I learnt a heart-breaking lesson this year. I learned that it’s impossible for me to reach the beauty standards I set myself when I was a child. It seems whatever I do, someone will point out a different flaw.
I’m going to use my dual identity to my advantage, and pick and choose what I want from each one.
From Iran, I’ll take the food, the tea, and the architecture; leaving the superficiality and the toxic insecurity behind.
From the UK, I’ll take the social awkwardness, the sarcasm, and the freedom to look however I want to.