Some of the criticism George W. Bush and his administration received when they began the war against Iraq was that they were trying to force our culture on the Iraqi people. President Bush might not have even disagreed with this, since he seemed to preach that our culture was the best culture in the world. However, many people felt that our value system just wouldn’t work in Iraq. They said that the Iraqi people would never adopt Western values and customs. Some were very condescending about it, and said that Iraqis “weren’t ready” for Western ways. In at least one area, these critics were wrong. Our country’s policy can probably take credit for the fact that something Western has definitely been embraced by the Iraqi people: nose jobs.
In today’s Iraq, cosmetic surgery is “in.” It wasn’t that long ago that Iraq’s plastic surgeons were busy trying to repair the ravages of war. Now that things have calmed down somewhat in certain areas, these doctors also spend some time lifting rear ends, performing liposuction, and “fixing” noses. The most popular cosmetic surgery in Iraq is the nose job. The cost, as cited in the Los Angeles Times is between $600 and $1,000. I don’t know what accounts for the $400 cost range. I hope the doctors aren’t charging by the inch.
It’s ironic that cosmetic surgery is on the rise while Iraq has become so religiously conservative. While this type of surgery is not condemned by Iraq’s clerics, surgeons are instructed to adhere to religious law. That means the doctors are not supposed to look at the “forbidden” parts of the female anatomy, even while they perform surgery. So if a woman is having a breast reduction or enlargement, the doctor is supposed to abide by the principle, “You can touch, but you can’t look.” In this area, they haven’t quite adopted Western ways, since what men in our society often hear is the exact opposite.
So how are we responsible for all this cosmetic surgery? Before the war, Iraq was a much more insulated country. However, since 2003, Iraqis have had the opportunity to watch satellite TV. And what have they seen on satellite TV? I’m not talking about “Becker.” They’ve seen Egyptian and Lebanese celebrities who apparently look like they go to plastic surgeons about as often as you and I go to the bathroom. Hard to believe that celebrities would use artificial means to enhance their looks, isn’t it? And just like in our country, there is a frenzy in Iraq to have phony looks that imitate these phony looks.
Iraqis are also able to watch Western-style music videos on their TVs now. Some people in Iraq feel that the desire to change their looks is the result of Iraqis seeing beautiful people, dancing and singing on the tube. One Iraqi woman, a 45-year-old mother of two, said that she hoped her liposuction would make her look more like Beyonce. So look what our culture has given them: an obsession with looks and celebrities. And you didn’t think the Bush policy was working.
Most of the Iraqis who want cosmetic surgery say that it is because they think it will help them get married. See? They’ve adopted the notion from our culture that plastic surgery will lead to love. And some of you didn’t think they were ready for Western values.
When the war in Iraq started, the pro-war folks said that we wanted to give the Iraqi people things that all the people in the world were entitled to. What they really seemed to mean was that we wanted the Iraqis to have the right to remake themselves in our image. And that’s what they’re doing. Kind of. They’re not imitating the way we look naturally, they’re imitating the way we imitate the way people look.
It is pretty amazing. Here’s a culture that refused to wilt for thousands of years despite the sandstorms of the winds of change, but they just can’t resist breast jobs and tummy tucks. I guess the war’s been a success.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.