The popular series 100 Years of Beauty, in which Cut.com explores the fashions women have followed for the last century in different countries is another illustration of this truism, especially in the series’ third episode, which focuses on changing trends and tendencies in Iran.
In the clip make-up artists and hair stylists tracked the changing ways in which Iranian women have altered and had altered their appearances from 1910 to 2010. By highlighting traditions and styles popular long before and after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Cut.com showed a set of images of Iran that are rarely depicted in media outside the region.
According to the creators, as cited by YahooBeauty, the idea was to illustrate how closely related political changes and beauty trends can be, and how, for the same reasons, certain countries and communities can be reduced to a single image:
When we were choosing our third piece we wanted to showcase a culture where that link between beauty and politics was most explicit. Generally, American media is pretty insular. People from other countries are reduced to tropes. We wanted to show that Iran, just like our country, has never been static. The culture has changed a lot over time […] And hopefully, those changes would surprise people enough that they would want to know why and do a little work on their own to find out more.
Discussions under the video and on Cut.com's Facebook page boomed after its release in February and have continued ever since. Some of the images and the research that went into the clip can be seen on Cut.com's Pinterest page:
Predictably there was a lot of controversy connected to the use and imposition of the hijab. Commenters on both YouTube and Facebook discussed at length the definition of freedoms, citizen participation, the value of choice and the role of tradition in women’s life. They also discussed female participation in Iran today and before the Islamic revolution, and exchanged ideas and experiences:
How does “no hijab” define freedom? There are Iranian women who wear hijab because they want to, and it is true that some are forced and that is wrong. But to say that the hijab itself is regression is just your own opinion. Muslim women can wear hijab and still have freedom. Hijab was not the only thing during the Ayatollah's time that was forced. If you think that all Iranian women should “rebel” and remove their headscarves to be free, remember, your violating someone's freedom of choice […] I am appalled at […] women thinking that all Muslim women should lose their veils to be “free”. That is also wrong.
The discussions also covered the way Muslims live in Western societies and how different that can be from Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Visions and impressions criss-crossed with one another and showed the diversity in the experiences and perceptions of Muslims and non-Muslims in the Middle East and in the West.
Difficult questions were posed and met with sharp responses:
I live in a Western society too. You make it sound like the concept of being a non-religious Muslim is some fantasy for Iranian women. That's how it was (its shown in the video). And Iranians aren't demanding Western ideals, we are demanding choice. The women who choose to be religious can be, the women who do not can not be. And this isn't just about the hijab, its about ridding a religious regime.
I am surprised why the concept of a country wanting freedom of choice is so unusual.
Unsurprisingly, there were clashes in responses to the video — especially on YouTube, as is the norm on that platform — but the variety of questions and responses showed the extent to which fashion preferences can be a window onto a society, increasingly important at a time when mainstream media's depictions of Iran are those of a regime rather than a highly diverse people.
Numerous comments, for example, demonstrated non-knowledge of the pre-1979 styles, and triggered inquiries as to the reasons for the radical changes from the 70s to the 80s, after which the model’s make up and hairdo was qualified by a chador. They also asked repeatedly about the green paint on the model’s face in the 2000s, which represented the look women protestors adopted during the riots that followed presidential elections in 2009.
This has shown me how ignorant I still am about much of human history. I am constantly learning but I had no idea that Iranian women had more of a Western style for several decades.
And Pirouz Kas responded:
+Richard Taylor The media like to draw their simple “Clash of Civilisations”-picture. east vs west, evil vs good, like a bad hollywood film lol. Sometimes do-gooders in the west defend oppressive regimes in the east, because they think there is no alternative for the people there. In my opinion, Iran deserves freedom and human rights, like any other country in the world.
By the way, when I say to Germans, we are not Arabs – they sometimes answer, yes you are! Thanks media, good job really.