TEHRAN (Reuters) - Breast augmentation? Hair extension? Body tanning? Ziba has done it all in Islamic Iran, where only a woman’s face and hands should be visible and the garments she wears in public must hide her curves.
Wearing the all-enveloping chador (veil) or a headscarf and loose-fitting full-length coat is obligatory under Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Offenders face fines, whipping or jail.
But that has not stopped image-conscious Iranian women and a growing number are going under the knife for new noses, tummy tucks, liposuction, lifting eyelids or breast augmentation.
Dozens of beauty centers, including spas and salons, have mushroomed across Tehran promising to improve a woman’s looks.
Art student Ziba, 25, has done nose and breast surgeries.
“Now I want to be tanned and look more attractive,” she said, sitting in the waiting room of a northern Tehran spa.
Housewife Fariba, 34, like others wary of giving her full name, said: “I come here twice a week. Wearing hijab does not mean we should not care about our looks.”
This spa has up to 40 customers a day, especially in summer when “more parties are being thrown”, said Sara, the manager. “I also have some customers who wear the chador. They want to look pretty at private parties.”
“Any business related to Iranian women’s appearance makes good money,” she said. “We offer services such as massage, tanning and facial cleansing.”
In a land where unmarried men and women are not allowed to mingle and women have to respect the Islamic dress code, dentist Shokoufeh Molai spends around $1,000 a month on her looks.
“I have to look fresh and beautiful to preserve my marriage,” the 35-year-old woman said. She pays around $11 dollars a session for tanning.
While applying a special $250 cream on her face with her French manicured nails, she criticized Iran’s laws for not providing enough support to women.
Under Islamic law, men can marry up to four permanent wives and as many “temporary wives”, via religious contracts which can last from a few hours to several years. Women who enter temporary marriages are divorcees or widows.
Women, by contrast, require their husband’s permission to work or travel abroad and enjoy far weaker divorce and custody rights than men.
But with female graduates outnumbering men, women enjoy greater rights and opportunities than in many other Middle Eastern states. Many women run their own businesses and occupy senior management positions. They can practice almost any profession except judge or president of the country.
Sociologist Mahtab Sarvari said the growing number of women paying to enhance their appearance was part of an effort to improve their role in society.
“Iranian women are becoming more and more independent. Paying attention to their looks is part of this process,” she said.
Cosmetic surgery is not limited to the affluent and has spread among lower-income families where a teacher may earn about $200 a month.
“It gives me confidence to have a nice face because it is the only part that I can show off,” said middle-class housewife Hasti, 30, who sold her car to raise $5,000 to have her nose altered.
Cosmetic surgeon Mitra Khalili said botox injections were very popular even among lower-income Iranians.
“Women from all layers of the society want to iron out wrinkles. It costs around $200,” said Khalili.
The cost of breast surgery, up to $10,000, put middle-class Iranians off, said a surgeon who asked not to be named. “But I do at least two breast surgeries per day.”
Cosmetic surgery is not the only way to look younger and fitter. Jam-e Jam Hair Club offers “extension” for almost $1,000 to those “who want to look like western celebrities”.
“I look like Angelina Jolie now. Longer, thicker hair is a sign of beauty,” said Maryam, 25, the daughter of a businessman.