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Women in Tehran

Posted on | July 12, 2011 | 1 Comment

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“And she too?”
The taxi-driver chatting to Murph in the front of the cab barely inclined his head towards me, headscarfed and in the back with the kids.
They continued their conversation about where we were from and where we lived. I seethed, the knot at the pit of my stomach curling ever tighter.
Was this it? Would I be a nameless “she” in a black scarf for the next two weeks?
Remind me why I’d agreed to come to Iran again?

It took about two days in Tehran before I started to relax. Yes, I had to stay covered head-to-wrists-to-ankles – even when going to the shared bathroom in our budget hotel at night – but it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t have to walk behind my husband and sons – except if I wanted to avoid their constant Halo-Homestar-RedVsBlue conversation. I spoke to Iranian men and no crazy religious nut appeared to chastise me. We managed to navigate public transit in Tehran together, I didn’t have to sit on my lonesome in a women-only section. It was all very easy actually and funny to hear our kids praise Tehran’s modern metro system.

My pre-Iran stress was replaced by sadness but not all the time. So many people stopped to chat and welcome us to Iran that it was hard not to feel like a bit of a celebrity. But sometimes I’d look down a street and see black, black and more black and the absence of color made me sadder than I expected. Even the women not in chador seemed to stick to mostly black. When my mind became more adjusted to the street scenes around me the subtleties of Iranian women’s fashion became clearer. A tiger-print scarf under a chador here. Heels with sparkles and bows under plain black pants there. It was like a game to spot these flashes of individuality and originality.

women-in-iran-tehran2Most young Tehranian women wear mid-thigh length jackets or shirts. A surprising number have tightly-cinched waists. Colors are mostly dark and solid but there are ruffles, flounces and the odd white trim. Many women wear a nun-like wimple (the actual hijab head-covering) but just as many more wrap brightly-colored scarves around their hair. The more daring have big, big hair teased up in front and piled up behind with the scarf barely covering the elaborate hairdo – which might just be a tactic to distract from faces and lips painted in pinks and reds.

Like the rest of the steady flow of people coming out of the metro station in central Tehran we parted around a pair of women in a heated discussion at the station entrance. The taller of the two was a stylishly-dressed older woman who I’d noticed on the platform earlier. Her coat had a dramatic black-and-white geometric pattern, her hair and her heels were high and her make-up heavy – in the Iranian style – but artful. The young woman in front of her was dressed in forbidding black, a perfect example of strict hijab. I noticed an offical-looking badge below her chin and gasped. So this was what the Fashion Police looked like!

I can’t help thinking that the Fashion Police are such a pointless endeavour. After all, attracting the opposite sex is human nature. It’s pretty clear that many Iranian women want to look and be beautiful and even in Iran, men like to admire. Iranian guys seem to have adapted as well as girls: chador or not, a pretty girl is still a pretty girl worthy of a smile, a wave or at least an appreciative glance.

Personally, I don’t care whether someone observes hijab or not – so long as she has been able to make the choice whether or not to do so herself. The restrictive dress code and it’s enforcement is – to me – a sad reminder of limitations on personal freedoms – at least in terms of dress – in modern Iran.

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Comments

One Response to “Women in Tehran”

  1. Rachel Denning
    July 14th, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    So fascinating. When we were in India, my 6 year old son asked me about the Muslim women at the local zoo, who were dressed from head to toe (even their faces were covered, except for a slit for their eyes).

    “Mom, why are those girls dressed like ninjas?”

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