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This new film is a visual celebration challenging Iranian beauty ideals

‘The Fall of the Standard of the Beauty’ explores the West’s impact on what is considered beautiful

Women of colour might have a complicated history with Western beauty ideals, but after decades of being sold that there’s one ideal of beauty (namely thinness, whiteness, and youth), thankfully, the landscape of beauty for WoC seems significantly more progressive.

Just take how more WoC are beauty entrepreneurs than ever before. We’re seeing more movements celebrating the diversity of our hairstyles – and defying hair discrimination in the process, too. Or how WoC are reclaiming the natural beauty routines of their ancestors. It’s been a long time coming – after all, Eurocentric beauty ideals can hurt WoC the most: we’re exposed to more chemicals in beauty products than our Caucasian counterparts.

Despite the strides being made by WoC the world over to decolonise beauty, in non-Western countries – and their respective diasporic communities – Eurocentric ideals can and do prevail. Dubai, for one, was recently billed as the ‘new Beverley Hills of the Middle East’, with more plastic surgeons than other city in the world. Meanwhile, Tehran was named the nose job capital of the world while the procedure has been likened to a ‘rite of passage’ for many Persian women the world over – be it growing up in London or Los Angeles.

It’s this in part that propelled London-based Iranian creative and artist Sahar Ghorishi to create her two-part film The Fall of the Standard of the Beauty, a celebration of the much-maligned Iranian nose while also seeking to dismantle Western standards of beauty in the process. Four months in the making, what sets Sahar’s aptly-titled film apart, however, is how she hopes to ignite a greater dialogue on how the Iranian diasporic community can wield identical – and just as insidious – pressures as growing up in the West. 

The first instalment of the film introduces us to Sahar’s subjects, who discuss their shared experiences of Western beauty standards against a backdrop of Iranian traditional music, evoking a sense of community. Meanwhile, Part 2 follows a documentary format and continues conversations with Sahar’s subjects discussing the prevalence of plastic surgery and self-love. Sahar too features in the latter instalment, discussing her reasons for creating the film.

‘The Fall of the Standard of Beauty’ is particularly hard-won for Sahar after more than a decade of wanting a nose job. As she tells us: “Growing up Iranian in Iran and the UK, I thought it was something I had to do in order to be accepted not only by Western culture but modern Iranian culture. I’d even booked a nose job consultation in Iran. There’s this Iranian saying that translates to ‘kill me but make me pretty’. That was my mentality.” It was only after Sahar recognised that her reasons for having surgery were for the most part influenced by others that she decided to cancel having the procedure. “I reassured myself that not everyone can see the beauty of an Iranian nose which is what inspired me to create this film,” she says. 

Here, we speak with Sahar to find out whether decolonising Eurocentric ideals of beauty can be achievable and why her film is more pressing than ever.

Your film centres on the importance of looking how you please as opposed to pleasing others to meet unrealistic – and often Western – ideals. But we’re still living in a society that places value on Eurocentric beauty ideals. So how realistic do you think that is to achieve?

Sahar Ghorishi: We can achieve it by picking apart Eurocentric ideals of beauty and looking into why we have this standard in today’s day and age. If we look back at history, we can see that features such as large noses and unibrows were considered beautiful features in central Asia, so what changed? Having a big bum is beautiful now, but years ago in the West, it wasn’t considered so. The same goes for having big lips and having lip fillers. If we start educating ourselves, we can achieve the goal to be free from these standards. We can finally realise that beauty has no limits and we can educate ourselves and decide whether we’re making choices for ourselves or others.

When we think of how Western beauty ideals affect young Iranians, we often assume it’s women. Was it a conscious move to include men in your film? 

Sahar Ghorishi: Iranian men have also been very heavily influenced by Eurocentric ideas of beauty. I’ve had conversations with male family members who pointed out their insecurities, which the majority of the time revolved around their nose. Even though women deal more with beauty standards, it’s also apparent that Iranian men aim to live up to these standards too. We can see this in the film with the men discussing receiving comments about their facial features at some point in their life, especially when living in the West. (I felt that it was) important to highlight that.

It’s not uncommon for Iranian women to walk around wearing white bandages after having nose jobs. In some of the stills from your film, your subjects’ noses are painted in red and green. Why was that?  

Sahar Ghorishi: Nose bandages are usually kept on longer in Iran which some people use to show that they’re up to date with (plastic surgery) trends. My team and I wrote specific locations in Iran on each participant’s nose depending on where they’re from while using the colours of the Iranian flag. One example is of a girl wearing a green bandage with the words Doroud (دورود) written on it. This is a county in Iran where one of the most beautiful tribes live whilst the green bandage signifies growth and unity. So, instead of it being a badge of honour for a nose job, it’s now a badge of honour to remember the history that a natural nose holds. The song in part one, too, is by Andy Dokhtare Irooni called “Iranian Girl’. The song’s lyrics say each flower has a different smell, with every nose having its own beauty, I think it links together really well.

How much do you think there’s been a shift in PoC increasingly no longer conforming to the pressures to meet Western standards of beauty? How does it feel to be a part of this? And do you think your film reflects this shift?  

Sahar Ghorishi: Recently, I’ve felt that PoC are starting to acknowledge our own beauty and what we’ve lost because of the West. We’re inspired to regain that beauty, history, and culture that’s been taken away from us. The Western standard of beauty is something that’s put in place for us to forget about the real beauty that our cultures hold. I feel like the film is a step forward in the right direction to acknowledge that we’re no longer mentally controlled by what beauty standards say. We have our own culture, history and our ancestors. We’re not afraid to acknowledge that. I really do feel part of this beautiful community.

“I want to encourage self-confidence through learning more about yourself and your culture and history. I really hope this series encourages young Iranians to make decisions for themselves alone” – Sahar Ghorishi

What have you learned about beauty since you created The Fall of the Standard of Beauty?

Sahar Ghorishi: Beauty means having no borders and no limits. My recent journey in accepting my body hair, for example, has been looked down on but what I’ve realised is that the generation before us find it hard to understand how the set standards of beauty are unhealthy. I still get told off by my mum when I don’t shave my body hair but it’s something that I’m learning to educate my family on and the generation before me because I know how hard it is for them to really acknowledge what the West has done with standards of beauty. Beauty might have no limits to me but it may for others. I’ve found beauty in educating others. 

Finally, do you hope your film might set a precedent in encouraging young Iranians – and PoC at that – to challenge Eurocentric ideals on their own terms and be more confident about their appearances? 

Sahar Ghorishi: I hope they start recognising that they have the right to question history and to decide what they want to do with their bodies for themselves and not for Eurocentric standards. I want to encourage self-confidence through learning more about yourself and your culture and history. I really hope this series encourages young Iranians to make decisions for themselves alone.