Face of today's Iranian male changing one nose at a time

Friday, October 17, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran -- Another day, another nose job.

Dr. Magid Navab performs at least two every working day. Iran's conservative Islamic rulers frown on many indulgences, but plastic surgery is not among them.

"The phones are always ringing," said Navab.

And more and more, the callers are men.

Once they were almost exclusively a feminine option. Now Iran's men are increasingly undergoing nose jobs for the same reasons as their sisters and mothers: vanity and changing priorities in a society shedding the hard-edged values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Navab, one of Tehran's most prominent cosmetic surgeons, said about 20 percent of his nose job patients are now men. That's about 150 streamlined male profiles a year.

"A few years ago, it was just a handful," he said.

Iran has no centralized statistics for its nearly 100 licensed plastic surgery clinics. Conservative estimates suggest more than 50,000 nose jobs a year around the country -- including perhaps as many as 15,000 on men.

"You'll continue to see more men doing it," said Navab, who studied in France and the United States.

"It's a reflection of how men view themselves as our country evolves. Who can say it's un-Islamic to seek a better self-image?"

Persian culture has always prized beauty and elegance. Many Iranians can quote love verses from the 14th century mystic poet Hafez. The centerpiece of nearly every home is a graceful Persian carpet. The sublime dulcimer is the soul of traditional music.

The victory of the clerics brought an unaccustomed cultural chill. The 1980-88 war with Iraq, which cost a total of 1 million lives, also fundamentally reordered the priorities of Iranian manhood. Sacrifice and valor were paramount. Any indulgence, from long hair to a close shave, could mean harassment by vigilantes as recently as the late 1990s.

"Back in the early years of the revolution, it would be impossible for men to think of having a nose job when soldiers were coming back from the front without legs," said Hasan Yazidi, a 24-year-old student who narrowed his nose last year. "But this is a new time."

Sociologist Saeed Madeni sees a "helplessness syndrome" among young men who have few job prospects and a caught in the contradiction of having Internet access while most Western movies and music are banned.

"Getting a nose job is one way of young men saying, 'I decided this. I'm in control,"' said Madeni.

But 24-year-old Amin Fatalizadeh just wants to feel more handsome.

"With a new nose I think I will be more confident, happier," he said as he awaited surgery. "If I feel good about myself, maybe good things will happen to me."

His mother, Sohelia, initially objected but she relented and paid the $2,000 fee -- a considerable sum for most Iranians. Twelve years ago, the same doctor reshaped her nose.

Amin was led into the small operating room. Navab injected local anesthesia and went to work, chipping at the cartilage and bone through the nostrils and finally breaking and resetting the nose, now narrower and minus the bump on the bridge.

Thirty minutes later, Amin was bandaged and sipping pineapple juice.

"A success," said Navab, snapping off his surgical gloves.

In his other office upstairs, a middle-aged woman was being prepped for a facelift. The following day another young man was scheduled for a nose job. A retired man came in to talk about a neck tuck.

"I've done work on men as old as 75," said Navab. "You know they might have some sort of young girlfriend and they don't want to look like her grandfather. I don't ask. I just try to make them look better."

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