“The Beauty Academy of Kabul”

Beauty Academy of Kabul

By Jae-Ha Kim
December 19, 2006

When “liberators” don’t understand the country they’re trying to help, the end result can be well meaning, but diluted. In the documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul, filmmaker Liz Mermin focuses on a group of American hair stylists who travel to post-Taliban Afghanistan to teach local women how to beautify themselves and their customers.

Though well-intentioned and enthusiastic, many of the Westerners come across as clueless and thoughtless. Looking at a group of women eager to pick up some styling tips, an Indiana hairdresser admonishes them for looking plain and demands to know why they’re not wearing makeup. She seems to have no idea that until recently, these women were covered head to toe in burkas.

Another American stylist says to her translator, “It seems to me some of these women are fearful of their husbands. Why?”

And yet another seems disappointed when her class makes no notice of her declaration that Frederic Fekkai–the famed hairdresser to the stars–personally donated the scissors they’re using.

Mermin would’ve done better to focus less on the Americans and more on the Afghani women, many of whom have heartbreaking stories to tell. One, who got married at 14, notes, “Men and women should be equal.”

Another young student likes the idea of marrying a man she falls in love with, but pragmatically points out, “If a guy can fall in love with you, he can fall in love with someone else, too.”

It is these women who carry the story. And it is these women whose stories should’ve been delved into more.


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