The first thing I take out of my souvenirs luggage is a hot pink Revlon lipstick. My cousin snatches it out of my fingers and screams Rev-Loan!? It costs 20 dollars here.” Her two sisters scream after her and call her a lucky bitch. She walks away and I hear “Maa-maan look…” I reach for the next cousin’s souvenir, a box of Cover Girl eye-shadows and decide to not to mention anything about the 50-cent lipstick from the clearance basket in CVS.
My cousin stands in front of the mirror to apply her lipstick. With her mouth half-open and her right hand gently moving left and right on her lips, she murmurs “I’m going to put it on tomorrow to the party and show it off to that witch with her 10 dollar ugly red Bore-joys rouge-French adapted word for lipstick in Farsi.
Iranians are obsessed with the West–the very same place that was snatching their Islamic values so they had a revolution to get rid of any distractions on the way of being Iranian and being Islamic. Any European or American and in some cases of electronics Japanese and Korean brands are to be adored and paid for in Iran.
On the other hand, for many women, cosmetics are necessity not luxury. So, why not buying the best of what you need the most? For a group whose bodies are forced to be covered, faces and hands have become the center of attention. Since the Shia laws in Iran do not demand the covering of the face and hands, one would see many made-up faces, carefully manicured nails and fingers adorned by expensive rings. Also, no matter what religious background a woman has, using make-up is a proper and pleasant idea. If one is not necessarily religious, the heavy make up would be accompanied by a hair-do covered barely by a small often see-through head scarf. And if one is a believer, a full covering of the hair is accompanied by different degrees of make up.
“Rev-Loan is the best, right? Even better than Oh-Reh-All?” my cousin asks with a pleading look on her face. “you know I never wear make up. How would I know!?” I answer thinking I will be left alone. First my older cousin protests that I should since I live in Iran now and then her other sister applying her eye shows says Rimmel has always been the best. “It’s British at last, aren’t I right, Pari?”
I have no answer, instead I play the smart kid from the US and preach “it’s pronounced L’Oreal and Bourjois!” “The chemicals are bad for your skin, you know!” “Every thing is made in China anyways…”
But no one seems interested in how American pronounce things and the rain of questions about other brands and products shower me.
Less than a month later, ironically, for any small occasion I am gifted cosmetic products. A light pink blush, a dark black eye-liner and a beige lipstick of brands more popular in Iran such as the Turkish one, Pasha or the German one, Manhattan. Now even I apply–but still a very pale or subtle layer–makeup any time I hang out with my cousins. If I appear Sadeh-plain, all three of them will scold me. I have not been successful in finding a husband in Iran or in USA because they tell me I am so Omol–the common, not sophisticated Persian word for plebeian.
I, unlike many Iranian woman, do not find pleasure in making myself look, I dare say, like a drag queen. For I have no desire to attract attention, I prefer to go about looking as simple as possible. (Yet I must admit that on occasions I have attracted enough attention to be told by men and women staring at me on the streets–it is perfectly appropriate in Iranian culture to stare–that I need to pay a visit to the beauty pallor.)
I, unlike many Iranian women, do not have to fight the system and its common summer crack downs on bad-hijabi or not proper hijab by rebelling against the forced dress code.
Finally, even though I have never believed that my education could hold any thing against me, I just spare myself an argument with my father who warns me to not to look flashy. He believes my trip will be ruined if I ” get arrested” and ”be identified as an American educated journalism student!”
One of my cousins is what we jokingly call jelf–gaudy. She owns a manteau, the French adopted word for overcoat, in any bold color ever entered Iranian stores. And if there is a style or a color that doesn’t exists, she makes sure to get it stitched by her personal tailor.
“I am Shaadi–happiness.” “I have to wear happy colors,” She says when I am going through her closet. “What about the hijab police?” I ask, holding a hideous black wool uniform with red, yellow and green patterns sewn on the hem.
“Boro Gom shoo! I would say or just have my daughter cry and scream frantically so they would let me go” she declares in happiness and triumph.
Shaadi cannot grasp why I am always in black. For her, black is the color of revolution and the disappointing years that followed. Green is what she likes to wear, not much due the fact that she protested couple of times for presidential elections in June 2009, but more because it is the color that cheers her up. Black is for those who lost their hopes and souls after Islamic Republic failed to fulfill its promises of equality and democracy. For her, red is for those who may lost heir democratic vote, but still have the courage to make a statement.
Whether my cousins and millions like them wear dandy colors and put heavy make-ups to please themselves, I found it important to acknowledge that Iranian women have strong reasons for what they do. Those who tighten their Hijab, but wear heavy make-up are saying that there is no contradiction between being a proper Muslim woman and being beautiful and modern like the woman in Oh-Reh-All ad from the satellite TV. Others who wear the heavy make-up and show as much as hair possible are saying that “I am not a woman to be covered up.” Even those who go out of their ways to get products of Western brands are making a statement. Loving the West might at first seem like an inferior complex–and it is at some degrees. However the desire for Western products is a short cut to connecting with the world that has been blocked for Iranians. It is a simple act of–desperately–saying unlike what you think of us, we love you.
Every color, every action, every word has different meanings. Meanings that have been functioning in harmony of one another for many years are the very core of this society. Whether it’s a color to cheer you up, or it’s a brand to set you aside, it is a statement that needs to be read carefully.