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Big Girl – Iran’s Mahvash مهوش


Marylin on a Diving Board

Marylin Monroe – Diving Board

Singer, dancer, stage actress Mahvash was in her heyday in 1950s Iran when women entertainers were still frowned upon by polite society as femme fatale. Lauded as a singer of the people, Mahvash came from a poor family herself and she communicated with the poorer classes with her language, her image and her own sense of poise. What makes Mahvash one of a group of pioneers on screen and stage at the time is that she was singing in the 1950s without a hair cover and with the skin of arms exposed, something considered extremely daring back then. In this way, teetering on the edge of decency, Mahvash paved the way for other female singers in her wake. Previously in Iran, the ideal woman was large and had thick eyebrows that met in the middle, and still later by Mahvash’s day the stylised ideal for a woman common across the Middle East was considerably voluptuous. Like Marylin Monroe, who was a UK size 16, Mahvash clearly used her size to her advantage. While the shot in the film at the very bottom of this post of two 2q0r3wotourists at the bar watching Mahvash perform reveals what we might now consider a rather chic couple, at the time they would have been cast as a “poorly looking couple, skinny and bee-namak” (plain looking). Surprisingly, despite the proliferation of western ideals of near-anorexic sizes, skinny girls in India are still considered by some as unattractive, uptight and appearing ‘highly vexed’, the sari top reveals the bat wings below the shoulder blade, the weight that gives the woman her weight and power. Enduringly however, an age old manufactured projection of pale skin as the ideal for a woman has never wavered in South Asia, the Arabian Peninsula nor in the Middle East, and skin bleaching is endemic across the region. Yet despite her size Mahvash was lithe and at times elegant, and she captured the hearts of so many that still to this day her public funeral went down in Iran’s history as the largest of its day, with thousands upon thousands of Iranians on the streets to mark her passing. What adds to her life story, informed as it was by heartbreak and struggle, Mahvash was the way Mahvash died tragically killed in a VW crash in 1961. Her son carried his mother’s legacy however, and went on to be a popular singer in his own right.