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The great Iranian cover-up

A nation with strict dress codes for women is also a world leader in cosmetics and nose jobs.

Indeed, the young women of Daeeri’s paintings are so engaged in becoming “modern,” that they become exaggerated, almost grotesque caricatures.

They have blonde hair, fake nails, thin eyebrows, Band-Aids from plastic surgery, and are weighed down by bold accessories. They try on skimpy dresses that can only be worn at private parties. They talk on mobile phones and eat ice cream and Mexican corn — a combination of corn, butter, spices and lime juice that is a favorite in Tehran shopping malls.

“My paintings show the reality of Tehran’s society,” Daeeri said. “There is a mind set in Tehran of what beauty is and women follow it religiously regardless of their class.”

Iran is the 7th largest consumer of cosmetics worldwide, according to a market research report published by a Tehran-based company called Tose’e Mohandesi Bazargostran Ati. Women spend $2.1 billion annually on beauty products, accounting for 29 percent of the total usage in the Middle East, the company says. What’s more, Iran is internationally known as a nose-job capital.

“This obsession of physical appeal exists in Iran because of so many pre-set boundaries,” Daeeri said. “Women in Iran are constantly grappling with what is right and what’s wrong. What the past generation considered ‘red-lines’ has become a launch pad for the next. That’s normal. But because of some restrictions, this has caused a clash which is evident in my paintings,” she said.

Reactions to Daeeri’s paintings in Iran were mixed, she said. Some viewers praised them as “modern” and “chic,” while others reacted badly to “a comic reflection of themselves.”

Daeeri said more restriction would add to the intensity of problems in a society already full of paradox.

“In a country where 60 percent of the population is under 30 years old and with the widespread usage of internet, satellite TV and world media, the youth are constantly getting a different idea of what is modern, and inevitably they are compelled to imitate that.”