“At the beginning, my mom was against it, she was saying that ‘natural beauty is better’,” Bermet recalls. “But after I went behind her back and did it, she decided that she wanted it too.” The women’s relatives have become accustomed to their new eye-shapes, and are enthusiastic in their approval.
The patients and surgeons openDemocracy talked to agreed that the Kyrgyz public opinion is divided on plastic surgery. “There are so many competing narratives on how you should look and invest in your look as a Kyrgyz woman,” Mamadshoeva points out. She says women are pressured to choose between contradicting narratives in terms of beauty standards: the new Muslim beauty standard, which is booming with the growth of Muslim fashion, the ethnicised “traditional beauty” narrative, and the “globalised modern beauty” model.
Blepharoplasty falls into the last category. Since Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991, women’s bodies and appearance have become important sites for negotiating national identity in contentious political and social debates. “In the more conservative spheres of society, the rural bride’s ‘natural’ beauty’ is often contrasted with urban women in Bishkek, who are considered to be spoiled and fake,” Mamadshoeva argues, adding that plastic surgery is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam.
“The fact that women don’t talk very openly about their surgeries might mean that they want to allow themselves the space to fit into those nationalist narratives on ‘natural beauty’ and not be judged,” says Mamadshoeva.
Beauty standards, self-improvement and Instagram
Born and raised in Bishkek city centre, Jannat, a dentist, was pushed hard to undergo blepharoplasty at the age of 23 by her aunts. Without asking her permission, Jannat’s aunts signed her up for a first appointment.
“I didn’t resist much because it was the kind of age when you have a lot of insecurities, when you want to change something but you don’t know what,” Jannat told openDemocracy in a cafe near her house. “It was the right moment for them to push me.”
The next day, the shape of Jannat’s eyes was completely different after a painful 40-minute surgery. Usually, a double eyelid surgery lasts at least an hour.
“I guess they thought I would feel better and more confident,” Jannat says, adding that her mother had died a few years earlier and her father “didn’t want to meddle in this ‘beauty stuff’”. When asked if she is resentful towards her aunts for the surgery, Jannat says that she tries “not to be too negative” about it because “anyway, it’s already done.” After her blepharoplasty, her last remaining aunt with natural eyes and her sister underwent eyelid surgery, too.Print