Iranwire – According to reports in Iranian media this week, a number of female beauticians in Mashhad have received a notice forbidding them from providing core services such as tattooing, fake nails, Botox, silicone implants, or intimate hair removal. They have also been told not to wear “unconventional” outfits or play “prohibited music” at work.
The notice came from Mashhad’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. It was passed to members of the Mashhad Women’s Hairdressers Union and traders across Razavi Khorasan province. An internal source that spoke to the website Didban Iran on May 8 said of the prohibition on waxing: “Even though the epilation of private places is done by women, it is still a cardinal sin.”
A Deepening Divide in the Holy City
The news came along with reports that a number of female beauticians performing these “forbidden” services had already been arrested. Eyelash and nail extensions were banned by the president of Mashhad Women’s Hairdressers Union as far back as 2017.
Similar notices have been issued in other Iranian provinces and cities as well. As far back as 2015, advertising hair removal services was banned in Qazvin. The move by the local public prosecutor came after local members of the Basij wrote an open letter expressing their unease over the practice.
The Basijis claimed Iranian women were being “commodified” by getting waxed and only doing it to attract Western men. They further called female beauticians “foot soldiers of the directors of certain satellite TV programs” and in the service of “the enemy’s cultural offensive against women’s modesty”.
This time around, there was no need for a complaint to be made; the blanket ban in Mashhad came straight from the relevant Headquarters, headed by none other than Ahmad Alamolhoda, Mashhad’s Friday Imam and President Ebrahim Raisi’s father-in-law.
In a series of audio messages sent to IranWire via Instagram, a woman living in Mashhad called Nasim said the ban had been introduced some time ago but was only reported recently. “The last time I went for epilation was a few months ago,” she said. “I don’t really know what’s going on, but… [until recently] when we crossed major intersections there was always somebody giving out flyers advertising hair removal.” The ban, she said, was “imperceptible… but now it’s been reported I can understand why salons are no longer advertising.”
Nasim has lived in Mashhad all her life and says the cultural and religious divides run deep. “The appearances of us women from the secular neighborhoods are very different to the women in religious neighborhoods. Because of the way we look, we can’t easily visit the more traditional areas close to the Shrine [of Imam Reza, the 8th Shia Imam]. The agents of ‘the Promotion of Virtue’ hassle you so much, some women prefer never to go to.”
The Islamic Republic’s First and Biggest Battleground
Sevil Suleymani, an Iranian-born feminist activist and researcher now based in the United States, told IranWire she believes these prohibitions serve a bigger ideological purpose than merely enjoining virtue: they aim, she says, to “remove women” from public life.
“Since its establishment in 1979,” she said, “this regime has built itself first and foremost on the bodies of women, and its first show of power was against women. It believes the most important thing distinguishing the West is that Western women wear more revealing outfits and enjoy more rights and sexual freedom. So, to show we have a different ideology, the regime gave priority to dominating women’s bodies.”
On March 7, 1979, just 24 days after the victory of the Islamic Revolution and long before he expressed his view on many important subjects on the day, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered women to wear hijab. “Muslim women should leave home in Islamic hijab, not covered in makeup,” he said in a speech to a group of Qom seminary students.
“It has been reported to me that in our ministries the women are naked, and this is contrary to the Islamic sharia…Women can work in the society but with Islamic hijab.” Thousands of women in Tehran took to the streets to protest Khomeini’s edict the next day, which happened to be International Women’s Day.
Despite their resistance and that of countless others since then, in the eyes of the law in Iran, Suleymani says, “the idea of the right to one’s own body is a bad joke. There is no such thing. Everything, from veiling to clothing to economic and cultural macro-policies, has its roots in misogyny.”
Orders like the one issued in Mashhad, she told IranWire, “enforces the attack on women and their bodies in the name of honor. This isn’t limited to the Islamists who are currently in power; even some of the most secular groups and political activists who claim to represent modernity in Iran want to control women’s bodies.”
The attacks go both ways; recently a group of Iranian feminists, mostly anti-Islamic Republic activists, posted pictures of their unshaven armpits to oppose statist narratives about what they ought to do with their bodies. Many social media observers ridiculed them and even admonished them for having done so.
Waxing and getting Botox, Suleymani says, are in reality a part of the same battle as the feminists’ pictures. “Our main point must be this: let go of women’s bodies. Recognize women’s right to control their own bodies, whatever they want to do with them.”