Pop Culture Drives Desire for Nose Jobs in Iraq

Deborah Amos reports on the new craze in Iraq: plastic surgery. Well-off Iraqis are seeing Western-style pop music videos featuring thin women with small noses and deciding to go under the knife.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

To Iraq now, where every public opinion poll shows a large majority of Iraqis saying they have hope for the future. They say they have hope despite the suicide bombers, the erratic electricity and the dangers of daily life. This seemingly unshakeable hope may explain our next story. With another small sign of a larger trend, here's NPR's Deborah Amos.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

Iraqis have been exposed to a steady diet of pop culture for more than two years, on satellite television, in magazines and newspapers. Music videos are the biggest hit, especially those of Nancy Ajram, a young Lebanese pop star known for her singing and for her surgeries, her very public transformation.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. NANCY AJRAM: (Singing in foreign language)

AMOS: As these images sweep over Iraq, it is changing the way Iraqis see themselves or want to see themselves. In Wafa Mohammed's(ph) case, it changed the way her husband wanted her to look.

Ms. WAFA MOHAMMED: (Through Translator) After hearing songs and seeing movies, and you know the girls, how they are indecently dressed, this made my husband emphasize how my body ought to be.

AMOS: And how should her body be? Just like those singers in the videos. Cosmetic surgery is now a booming business in Baghdad, tummies tucked, noses reshaped. And Wafa Mohammed is not alone.

Ms. MOHAMMED: (Through Translator) The married are encouraged by their husbands and the unmarried that have money, they are encouraged by their family.

AMOS: At the Ferdoz Hospital(ph) in Baghdad, Dr. Riad El Badri(ph), a 34-year-old surgeon, schedules about three cosmetic surgeries a day, a 100 percent increase since before the war. Dr. Badri says Iraqis know just what they want.

Dr. RIAD EL BADRI: Singer or Arab singer, yeah, yeah, like in Nancy Ajram. They come to us and say, `I want the nose of this singer.'

AMOS: Before the war, only the most privileged in Saddam's circles could afford cosmetic surgery. Now it is a middle class luxury, says Dr. Badri. Iraqi salaries are much higher than before the war. The cost of cosmetic surgery is so low, patients from Jordan and Syria risk their lives to come to Baghdad for the service. But Dr. Badri believes Iraqis need it most, the women and the men.

Dr. BADRI: We work about every two woman one man, because all of the noses in Iraq need surgical operations.

AMOS: What's wrong with your noses?

Dr. BADRI: There is a bone, abnormal bony hump or long nose or wide nose. They want their nose to become smaller.

AMOS: Dr. Badri is a superstar with the nurses at this private hospital.

(Soundbite of people talking)

AMOS: They see the results of his work. Samira Yaya Unis believes cosmetic surgery is a sign of progress for Iraqis.

Ms. SAMIRA YAYA UNIS: (Foreign language spoken)

Dr. BADRI: People are developing. They'd like to do the operations. They'd like to be more beautiful.

AMOS: Do you want to?

Ms. YAYA UNIS: (Foreign language spoken)

Dr. BADRI: She's got no money.

Ms. YAYA UNIS: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Nurse Unis, who says she is 70 years old, would change her nose if she could. Ask Iraqis what the future will look like, most will tell you they do not know. But they can decide what they will look like now. Deborah Amos, NPR News.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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