— “What is the difference between an Iranian women and a gorilla?” — “One hair.”
Hair removal. It is a part of the cultural discourse of what it is to be an Iranian women, no matter where you are in the world. We women have more hair then the rest of the lot. Even though you Iranian men out there may not “know” the detail.
You have heard in passing a comment or two from your sisters, wives and daughters, providing a glimpse of the labor of hair removal that Iranian women put themselves through… from “band” to “epilossium” to newer and improved methods like electrolysis and laser. Every Iranian woman has been encouraged to remove som' of that hair sometime in her life.
I am writing this piece to expose my experience, in order to illustrate a dialogue of our culture, a dialougue that goes unmentioned, so gracefully overlooked… yes, hair removal. No one questions that an Iranian women would look “better” without all the hair. As my Father said, “Come on Mona Jan, khoshgel eh man, vaay yoo need to resist dis? Arjang's daughter deed it, Whooshang's daughter deed it, Asgar's daughter deed it…”
I am going to try to show you the humor in this whole affair. I am going to describe to you my first experience with having my facial hair lasered off, how my skin was electrocuted for the sake of…. ah yes, beauty – hairless beauty.
So I arrive at Mt. Zion Center in San Francisco, 3rd floor. I walk in and soon I am ushered into a room where I am asked to lay down for the doctor to see how “hairy” I am… that's right folks, it was like that. Mind you, my mother made the appointment, “Peh-leeese Mona Joon, you vil look so much better.”
And I said I would go through with it, they said I would have to GROW OUT whatever hair had to be lasered. So I lay there with all my chin and moustache hair grown out, and a tall British man comes in and says “Hello, my deahh” and he casually runs his fingers along my chin hair, takes a good look. He and the nurse peer over my face lit up with fluorescent light. He says “This can all go… yes remove all of this.”
Now, I originally agreed to chin and upper lip, but then I noticed he is pointing to my hairline extending in front of my ear, or what Americans call “side burns”. I go, “Wait a minute. I just came here for my upper lip and chin. What is wrong with the hair here?”
He takes a moment and calmly sits down next to me to explain something. “I have many patients like you, the majority of my patients are Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Iranian, Lebanese… They all come here with so much hair, and we have removed it because they just could not stand it anymore. Now, they are happier, and you too will be happier! Of course, it is all up to you in the end. But I tell you that this hair here is not lady-like.”
Okay wait. This is when my mind starts racing. Why did the universe, why was I made with so much hair if it does not belong? I waxed before this escapade, but where do I draw the lin? Is having any facial hair something to be ashamed of? Something that makes you less of a lady? Is this a Western conception of what is beautiful that I have just bought into? YES!
I am questioning this, even though I don't have an answer, because I know that this is absurd although I, like my other Iranian women counterparts are contemplating this Hairless Dream. Did it bother me that he was a British colonial replica, blond and blue eyes, his leathery hands inspecting my old world face? YES! Suddenly I wanted to ask him, “Do you realize I am putting a laser on my face so that my hair level is more acceptable to the culture at large that you live in?”
But instead of being existential, I just said, “Um, ok… I don't want to remove this hair this time, but you can do everything else.”
Then he says, “NURSE! “We are going to need the high strength beam, she is really hairy.”
Nurse comes in and and tapes back my hair for a final inspection. She takes a poloroid of the hair on my chin, as a before and after shot like those weight watchers before and after posters. I ask her if she will continue to take shots throughout the procedure because I am already thinking up what I am going to do with this experience.
Prepartion: Numbing Cream. She applies a thick lather to my face to numb my skin. She removes it , puts goggles on my face, the machine starts its low humming grind, and the procedure begins.
The first zap, and I flew. I could not believe how much it felt like an electrocution. After witnessing my reaction, the nurse decided that she did not leave the cream on as long as she was supposed to. (WHAT?!). But she went ahead with the procedure.
Each little sting, I could smell burning hair. I said to her, “Isn't this odd that women do this for beauty?” I was having a surreal moment under the machine with these lasers.
“No,” she said.
She noticed I was tense and decided I would benefit from holding someone's hand. Another nurse came in, or I should say a hand came in because I never saw the nurse's face. And I was zapped into beauty, squeezing with a death grip onto the other nurse.
And here I am today, sore face, yet… HAIRLESS! The Iranian woman's dream… ahhhhh.
Except that they said I was so hairy that I will have to come back every two months for six sessions. That adds up to a… year. That's right. Now, I am not saying this is wrong or right, bad or good. I ask all these questions, and look at me! I am still going to go through with this!
I question myself for going through with this. I ask, What if we thought all that hair was beautiful? What if we accepted our natural hairiness instead… JUST WHAT IF? It would be a hell of a lot less painful.