This article was written by a citizen journalist based in Iran who uses an alias to protect her identity.
Mohsen has his apron on, and wears a T-shirt and shorts. He is busy dyeing Shoreh's hair, one of his regular customers.
The 36-year-old is one of Iran’s male hairdressers offering a variety of cosmetic services to women — a risky business in the Islamic Republic. It is forbidden for men to provide hairdressing or beauty services to women in Iran, and if Mohsen and other male beauticians are caught, they could face severe punishments, from flogging and imprisonment to having their work licenses revoked and their equipment confiscated. Despite this, these services, like many other businesses, are offered in many parts of Iran, especially in Tehran.
Mohsen started hairdressing for women in Tehran eight years ago, after taking specialist classes in hair dyeing and make-up in France. His salon on the first floor of a relatively stylish and upscale 100-meter high apartment block in a north Tehran neighborhood bears no sign, and he works in secret, offering a range of services to a small, selected client base across several rooms.
In one room, only hair-related work is done, and in another, hair and face make-up services are offered. There is also a section for bridal services, as well as a lounge and waiting room.
Mohsen says he must control his customers' comings and goings because of the sensitivity and danger of the job. He starts at 10 o'clock in the morning and continues seeing customers until 8 o'clock in the evening. He works alone, without assistants, though he is accompanied by his dog to keep him company. If a client is not comfortable with animals, he takes his dog out of the room.
Mohsen does not advertise anywhere, but has instead steadily built up his business over the last eight years through friends and acquaintances. He never answers phone calls from numbers he doesn’t recognize and only speaks to people who have been introduced by another customer.
His lounge is not crowded, and he asks each customer to arrive promptly at the time of her appointment. If a client misses her appointment, she has to wait another day, because he does not want to have clients waiting for services. The fees he charges are similar to, or slightly higher than, the top hairdressers in north Tehran. He charges between 250,000 and 300,000 tomans [between US$19 and $23] for haircuts, 500,000 [$38] to dye long hair, and 100,000 [$8] for facial epilation.
Mohsen loves his job and works with patience and precision. He says it’s worth putting up with the limitations, fears and restrictions.
A man called Saman deals in cultural products including movies, TV series, and computer games. But prior to this, he owned a hairdressing service, offering women cosmetics services for part of the day. "I had a hairdressing place in Shiraz about five years ago and did a good business," he says. "Because of my particular skill in cutting hair, I sometimes accepted female clients on the condition that they were accompanied by a male companion."
He provided more detail: "I usually accepted female customers at noon, when shops were closed and many people were going home for lunch and to rest and while the shutters were down. But one day, when I was trimming a young woman's hair in front of her husband, I heard the sound of police outside the shutters. They ordered me to pull up the shutters and open the doors of the shop. After a few minutes, I had to open the doors."
The Risks of the Job — And to the Customer
Saman faced lawsuits, but also flogging, jail, and fines. His shop was sealed permanently and his license was revoked. "The customer was fined and we had a hard time. I had to give up my favorite job."
IranWire has reported previously about a salon being closed down because a male hairdresser worked with female clients. This followed authorities finding photographs of several female models and a tube of hair dye on the premises. He was also arrested and fined.
The Jahan News website recently attacked the popular app Wall after it posted ads of men offering cosmetics services to women, secretly and at their homes. The site complained that there were many advertisements placed by men offering women services such as hairdressing, tattoos, makeup application, nail jobs, and massage treatments, and said no one was preventing it.
A range of services are also offered on Instagram and Telegram, the report said, and people were also going online to request specific treatments and services. Jahan News called on authorities to take legal action.
Former Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told reporters back in July 2018 that the number of female hairdressers licensed in Tehran is about 1,400, while the number of unauthorized hairdressers was expected to be around 1,600.
The fact that it is illegal for men to offer beauty services to women does not simply limit customers’ options and pose a risk to the man trying to make a living in that profession, it can also be dangerous for women. If they use these services and something goes wrong — particularly something that affects their health — they have no legal recourse. After all, they can get into trouble themselves if they report dangerous conduct or services, and can face prosecution and jail too.
Venus Omidvar, Citizen Journalist