One of the first courses I ever took in college influenced my entire career. I don’t remember the exact title. It was a class I needed to fulfill one of my core curriculum requirements. My first choice, a popular course on the history of China, was filled. I didn’t have a back up plan so I chose what jumped out at me at the time: a course on the history of the Iranian Revolution.
I loved it! Not only did I get to understand a dramatic moment in time, but I cemented my love for culture. In this course on Iran, we didn’t just learn about key dates or political milestones. But we delved into the cultural shifts occurring. This included a dramatic setback for women. While the time of the Shah had its own trial and tribulations for the people of Iran, the revolution brought major hardships for the educated elite. Women, especially, we’re forced into subservient roles. This manifested itself in many ways, including how they dressed. I realized from this course how “little behaviors” and seemingly insignificant aspects of our daily lives , i.e., how we dress and beautify ourselves, can reflect so much. After this course, I took Anthropology 101 and determined not only my college major, but a perspective on the world that I use TO THIS DAY.
Back to the Iranian Revolution. Did these women take the cultural shifts sitting down? No! I still remember learning how many women protested in small but significant ways through the very items that oppressed them — their veils. They would wear them pushed back or thread tiny silver strings in their black-only, severe-looking chadors.
I’ve referenced this history lesson in earlier posts. So why again? This morning I stumbled upon an interesting web series called 100 Years of Beauty. In a matter of seconds, this series examines changes in the course of political history through changes in beauty. This week’s edition happened to be 100 years of Iranian Beauty. As you can imagine, this sparked my interest big time! In this video you can witness the dramatic shifts from modest, religious styles in the beginning of the 20th century, to very fashionable, cosmopolitan looks during the years of the Shah, to a modest, severe style after the revolution, to the Green Movement of a few years ago, to a covered but more colorful and worldly look being adopted by women all over the country.
It is so cool to see the changes right before our very eyes. And what I also love it there’s no commentary or subtitles in these videos. All we see and must interpret are images of beauty. While many of us see beauty and fashion as a fun pastime, it means much more than we think. Yes, it may harm us when we pay too much attention to it or believe we don’t add up to the cultural norms. But, for many, it lets us express our views, hopes, dreams and beliefs. This is no small matter. It’s beautiful.