For $900, surgeons do battle with the great Iranian
By Christopherde Bellaigue in Tehran
7 October 2000
In his clinic off Vali Asr, Tehran's Fifth Avenue, Dr Ali Akbar Jalali
peels a plaster from Sara's nose. Terrified, the 18-year-old looks in the
mirror, and then at her father, who stands proudly by.
Gradually, her face relaxes, and tears fill her eyes. "May your
hands do no harm," she murmurs, as satisfied Iranians do to their
craftsmen and cooks. "It's beautiful."
It is. Dr Jalali has straightened Sara's bumpy bridge, sliced fatty
tissue from her nostrils and transformed a downcast tip into a sophisticated
If Sara misses her old nose, she can look at her father's; they used
to be identical, he says. But she is revelling in her new look. "The
plaster will come off in a few days," she says. "I don't mind
wearing it for a while. That way, everyone will know I've had the operation.
In Iran, it's a sign of class."
Towards the northern end of Vali Asr, there is plenty of class. If you
stroll a few hundred metres up and down the boulevard, you are likely to
see a handful of girls sporting tell-tale plasters, and more whose noses
seem suspiciously perfect.
Dr Jalali, who has pert, snub, discreetly flaring nostrils, says Iran
has 100 registered plastic surgeons, and Vali Asr is where the most renowned
have congregated. Their profession has changed drastically. During the
Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the surgeons became skilled at putting together
faces that had been blown to bits.
"We got our experience under the most difficult circumstances,"
says Dr Jalali. "After operating on a soldier who comes to you clutching
what remains of his jaw, a nose operation is child's play."
Though standards are often high, plastic surgery is far less expensive
in Iran that it is in the West. At $900, Sarah's operation set her father
back a fraction of the cost in Europe or America, although that is six
months' salary for most Iranians. Unsurprisingly, Dr Jalali is in demand
from expatriate Iranians. Most patients are female, under 30, and unmarried.
Iranian women have always been famous for their strong noses, a foil,
some say, for their beautiful, melting eyes. The craving for nasal perfection
is only two or three years old, dating from the time when theauthorities
relaxed the implementation of Islamic laws designed to prevent socialising
between the sexes.
For some women, a nose-job is a way to greater selfconfidence; for others,
it is an investment. A more beautiful nose, runs the logic, will get them
a more eligible and handsome husband, and, says Dr Jalali, "better
But even amid the present period of slow and hesitant reforms, Iran's
theocratic regime still forbids women to show their hair or the contours
of their body in public, and women are not encouraged to keep the body
beautiful. Gyms and swimming pools, while on the increase, are still few
and far between. Dr Behrooz Birashk, a Tehran psychologist, says: "It
is only natural that in such an environment women concentrate on making
their faces look nice."
Elham Asefi, a middle-aged mother of three, had her nose straightened
by Dr Jalali three years ago. Now she is back in plaster. "It's my
husband," she grumbles. He liked my new nose, but said he would prefer
it if it rose a bit at the end. So I came back to Dr Jalali, and now it
hurts like hell."
Mrs Asefi suggested a similar operation to her teenage daughter. "I
would like her to have it before she gets married," she says. "She
has suitors, but I don't like any of them."
But in the bustle of Vali Asr the Iranian original still holds sway.
My Iranian wife, possessor of a splendid hooter and enormous green eyes,
does not intend to call on Dr Jalali.
"A little snub nose doesn't suit the Iranian face," she says.
"I don't want to look like a doll."