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Inside A Salon In Tehran

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Our team on this reporting trip in Iran is all-female - me, my producer Becky Sullivan, our interpreter and our photographer. So we figured, why not explore somewhere a male reporter couldn't?


KELLY: Which is how we found ourselves this afternoon climbing the stairs to a door with a sign outside reading, no men allowed.


KELLY: How are you?

Inside, we're invited to hang our coats and remove our headscarves, which are mandatory for women on the streets outside.

ZAHRA: Would you like to go see that?

KELLY: We would like to see everything, please.

Welcome to Beauty House, a salon in well-heeled north Tehran. It is packed. The weekend is in full swing here in Iran. Thursday and Friday are the days most Iranians are off work, so a lot of the women in here are headed out to dinner or to parties tonight, and they want the works. All around us, women are getting their nails painted, their faces steamed and exfoliated, their hair blown out.

Oh, busy on this side - hair is busy.

We wander over to one corner, introduce ourselves to Kimya. We're using first names only here so people can speak freely. She's 23 years old, tells me she wants to study in the states one day. At this particular moment, though, she is focused on girly stuff.

Tell me what you're getting done today.

KIMYA: I'm having my nails done. She's an artist. She's going to draw some Minnie Mouse pictures on my nails.

KELLY: And are you following all of the news and tensions and everything between everybody talking about whether Iran and the U.S. would go to war?

KIMYA: It's getting hard not to notice the news, but I'm trying not to attention the drama. It's stressing. I'm focusing on my work.

KELLY: Kimya's mom Maryam actually works here, and a few chairs over, she's bending over a customer, touching up her roots. I put to her a similar question. Is she worried by all the talk of war and airstrikes and revenge?

MARYAM: (Through interpreter) Yes, I'm extremely worried. We really hope that these sanctions de-escalate as soon as possible. And we really, really hope sincerely that in 2020, there will be no wars starting.

KELLY: Do people - when you're, you know, cutting their hair and doing the color, do they want to talk about politics and war and news, or do they want to forget about it and talk about something else?


KELLY: You're both shaking your heads. No, no, no, no, no.

Maryam and the salon owner in unison there. Over in a far chair, I catch the eye of one more client. Mandana is a fashion designer in Tehran. She is getting her hair colored before a party tonight.

MANDANA: Brown, yes.

KELLY: Are you, may I ask, naturally brown?

MANDANA: Yes - natural brown, yes.

KELLY: But just better brown...


KELLY: ...Is the goal.

MANDANA: Yes, yes - better brown, yes.

KELLY: I am fascinated because I see all of these women doing beautiful things with their hair, but the moment you leave, you have to cover your hair.

MANDANA: Yes, I have to cover it - yes - in Iran.

KELLY: Tonight, though, will you...

MANDANA: We don't a scarf on something like this - yes, without a scarf, with a short dress, with high heels like this. Yes. When you want to go...

KELLY: Really?


KELLY: Really?

MANDANA: No. In the home, not in the streets - just in the home, yes.

KELLY: Before we leave, the owner of the salon has a surprise. She wants to give me a facial. She promises I will look 10 years younger, which is hard to turn down.

Here we go - lying down.

An hour later, I emerge. I don't know about 10 years younger, but I am definitely a new woman. Another client, a freshly coiffed woman who didn't want to speak on tape, confided, sure, she is worried about the tense security situation, but normal life goes on, she says. How could it not? And it helps, she adds, when you've got great hair.


That's our co-host Mary Louise Kelly in Tehran. Becky Sullivan produced our coverage from Iran this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.