Iranian Women Unpack Their Makeup Bags — And So Much More

There’s an important conversation happening about the role of makeup in our lives. Women are posting videos and images of their half-made-up faces, claiming their right to makeup as a personal choice, and not as a means to impress men or hide their insecurities. It’s a discussion we should be having, and one that’s long overdue.
And it just became global.
In a stunning new photo series published in LensCulture, Iranian photojournalist Mona Hoobehfekr gives an inside look at how and why women use makeup in Iran. “This has been on my mind for a long time,” Hoobehfekr told Refinery29 in an email. “I am fully aware of this as an Iranian woman. I started studying about the subject and I found that Iranian women are in the second rank among cosmetic consumers in the Middle East. Since women have to wear a scarf and their makeup is usually in harmony with their scarf, a portrait of every single subject, as well as a picture of their makeup bag put on the scarf were taken, and put together.”
The women, all between the ages of 14 and 30, are representative of varied socioeconomic status, and cite different reasons for wearing makeup. For most, they explain that bold makeup is their primary means of personal expression (since a 1979 ruling that requires women to wear a hijab covering everything but their face and hands). For others, many who have makeup bags spilling over with products, it’s a “mask.” And some even admit that it “makes women more attractive to men” — a point of view that is not uncommon in a country where a woman's value is half of a man's. “I believe that [women’s makeup bags are] very much related to their personality,” says Hoobehfekr. “I tried to demonstrate different attitudes and beliefs in a certain age range through my photos.”
With a young, urban population, it’s estimated that 0.1% of the country's imports are cosmetics, many of them from luxury brands like Yves Saint Laurent. Beauty companies look to the Middle East as one of the biggest future players in the market, and these women put a face on the numbers. A boom in cosmetics signifies more than economic growth, and suggests shifting opinions in identity, self-expression, and self-acceptance. Click ahead to see the series in full and read more about each woman’s relationship with makeup.
[Editors’ Note: At the photographer’s request, we reprinted the captions for the photo series in full. They do not reflect the views of Refinery29.]

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