Picture this: New noses mean new lives in Afghanistan

Cosmetics replacing prosthetics in Kabul's plastic surgery clinic

By Leslie Knott

Parwin waits to leave the Hamkar Surgical Clinic in Kabul. She is proud she has taken the steps to improve her looks. “Just because God made me ugly doesn’t mean I have to stay that way,” she said. (Leslie Knott)

For years, plastic surgeons have labored in Afghanistan to repair the scars of war. More recently, they are satisfying the desires of peace.

Take Parwin, a 23-year-old Afghan accountant of Hazara origin.

A few years ago, if a divorced woman like Parwin sought plastic surgery, it was more than likely her need arose from wounds stemming from violence, including mutilations like that reported in the August 2010 issue of Time magazine, whose cover featured a young Afghan woman whose ears and nose were cut off by her husband.

Since the United States’ 2001 invasion, American plastic surgeons like those at the Grossman Burn Foundation and others have descended on Afghanistan to treat war-related wounds, mend cleft lips and perform other procedures.

Parwin, 23, is an accountant who was recently divorced. Now that she’s found new love, she was determined to save enough money for a nose job. She sought an operation by herself, without seeking permission or approval from her parents. (Leslie Knott)

But Parwin recently visited the Hamkar Surgical Clinic in Kabul — featuring the only two private plastic surgeons in town — to make her flat Asiatic nose more western in a bid to please her new love interest. It’s a sign of how some parts of Afghan society are growing wealthier and adopting a taste for values associated with globalization, reported The National last year.

Now, however, the emerging middle classes, who have been exposed to trends in Iran and India, have a disposable income and are willing to pay for plastic surgery purely for cosmetic reasons.

(Based in the United Arab Emirates, The National article ran photos from the same shoot that produced these previously unpublished images.)

The story of the Hamkar Surgical Clinic echoes Deborah Rodriguez and Kristin Ohlson’s “Kabul Beauty School,” the acclaimed 2007 book that related Rodriguez’s tale of leaving her life as a hairdresser in Michigan to set up a beauty salon to soothe traumatized Afghan women.

“Kabul Beauty School” sparked disbelief when it was first published. Skeptics asked how anyone could devote so much time to cosmetics in Afghanistan when the embattled country was facing such extraordinary challenges.

Soon enough, however, those questions subsided. In a country where women are often horrifically oppressed, it becomes a gesture of defiance for someone like Parwin to choose to alter and, in the process, define herself. It is, in its way, a brave refusal to allow war and violence to squelch our identity, including our vanity. “Just because God made me ugly doesn’t mean I have to stay that way,” she said.

Parwin inspects her new nose. In order to enlarge the bridge of her nose, Parwin had to undergo an additional operation that removed part of her rib, which was then implanted in her nose. (Leslie Knott)

Like Parwin, other patients who came to the Hamkar Surgical Clinic were seeking nose jobs. Each had their own story.

This couple, both doctors, journeyed to the plastic surgery clinic from Paktika in eastern Afghanistan. The husband encouraged his wife to get a nose job.  (Clementine Malpas)

A young Kabuli man awaits consultation about how to improve the size of his nose. (Leslie Knott)

Dr. Daud Nazari examines a young Afghan girl in Kabul. She came to the clinic with her mother to investigate nose augmentation. Her mother felt it might improve her chances of finding a husband. (Leslie Knott)

A young Kabuli girl, Sedika, covers her face before seeing her new, augmented nose for the first time. (Leslie Knott)

Sedika smiles as she inspects her new nose after the bandages were taken off for the first time. Her mother broke down in tears of happiness when she saw the final result of the surgery. A nose job in Afghanistan costs around $300. (Leslie Knott)

Sedika ponders her new face. (Leslie Knott)

Latitude News editor John Dyer wrote the text for this article.

  • fabtrend1

    For those like us , less fortunate money wise , there is hope: fillers like radiesse for US$300 or the nose secret splints for $35 can help while waiting to afford surgery.