On the day the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, advertising posters pasted outside hair salons—showing women in wedding attire—were painted. Halls across the city were closed.
And while some companies have promised to return full service soon, many women worry about the future of the country’s beauty industry.
Afsoon (not her real name), a makeup artist, gave the BBC an idea of what the beauty industry meant to Afghan women.
It is difficult to translate the exact meaning of the expression takaan khorum into other languages.
Roughly speaking, it describes a rare event in life that shakes someone deeply, after which you will have been transformed forever — like the death of someone you love, someone central to your life.
Women’s faces were erased from posters in Kabul salons — Photo: Getty Images via BBC
Afsoon experienced the takaan sensation for the first time on August 15, 2021.
That Sunday, she woke up at 10 am to a call from a colleague at the beauty salon where she worked. Afsoon was happy there, living with the smell of shampoo and fresh nail polish mixed with the hum of a hair dryer with a lot of small talk.
“Don’t come today,” said Afsoon’s colleague on the phone. “We’re closing. It’s over.”
Sitting on the bed, Afsoon checked her cell phone. Her thumb moved up and down the phone’s screen as she scrolled through dozens of text messages from friends and family and then hundreds of posts on social networks. A torrent of dread hit her so hard that she felt frozen and sick at the same time..
The messages were all the same. The Taiban had entered the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. Within 16 days, all Western troops and their diplomats would have left the country.
“It’s over,” she repeated to herself. It was time to hide.
Afsoon is in her 20s and considers herself a modern Afghan woman. She loves social media, loves movies, knows how to direct and has professional ambitions.
Afsoon can’t remember what it was like to live in the 1990s, the decade he was born, when the Taliban banned beauty salons in the country.
She grew up in an Afghanistan where beauty salons were part of everyday life.. As a teenager, she flipped through magazines and social media looking for glamorous looks and frequented beauty salons with women in her family.
Afghan makeup artists based abroad, such as influencer Nilab Adelyar, have shown solidarity with women in the country — Photo: Nilab Adelyar
She loved everything in that world. From multicolored nail paint to makeup artists bending over women to make smoky lines and framing thick, brushed lashes on a makeup face. In the mouth, a glossy gloss completes the look, in addition to the long, flowing hair.
In the two decades since the US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban in 2001, more than 200 beauty salons have opened in Kabul alone, with hundreds more in other parts of the country.
Afsoon ended up fulfilling her dream of working on one of them and became a successful makeup artist. She wanted nothing more than that.
Like all beauty salons in Kabul, Afsoon’s salon had windows entirely covered with posters of elegant, glamorous women, heralding a promise of beauty that could be realized inside..
The posters meant that a pedestrian, navigating the hot, male-dominated streets of Kabul, could not see inside the tranquil, multi-generational female space of the Afsoon salon.
At any given time of day, there were more than a dozen women in there, whether professionals or clientele—ranging from doctors to journalists, from singers and TV stars to brides getting ready for their big day and teenagers laughing with their mothers on a special union day.
The salons have always been healthy environments, whether on wedding days or the quiet ones. And extremely crowded during festivals like Eid, when women get back to socializing. On these dates, it could take days to be able to schedule a time.
“I love women. I wanted to work and build spaces where women could be free and shine,” she says. “We could relax somewhere away from men.”
But on August 15, the day the Taliban took control of the presidential palace in Kabul, it was all over.
It’s almost midnight in Kabul and Afsoon speaks quietly on the phone with the report. She is visibly afraid. He left his home that Sunday and found a safe house. “Women in the beauty industry, especially people like me who were visible and public with our work, are the targets.”
After her friend’s phone call telling her not to go to work, Afsoon heard that any poster representing female beauty was being painted by frightened residents of Kabul. A friend of Afsoon’s has personally painted some model posters, in a gesture to appease the Taliban and not attract the attention of her friends with beauty deals..
“They would in no way approve of seeing uncovered women’s faces or exposed necks,” she says. “They were always very clear in their belief that a woman shouldn’t attract attention.
“It’s the end of the beauty industry in Afghanistan.”
Afsoon doesn’t have an invitation or job offer that would guarantee her a seat on a plane out of Kabul.
There is no way out for her.
She keeps in touch with colleagues on a daily basis in a group chat. The last payment they received was on the 24th of August. Nothing else will be paid. The hall is closed and everyone has accepted that they will not go back to work.
Afsoon says he can’t talk about her future.
She is not sure what will come. She has not thought about how she will dress now, or even when she will venture out into the streets.
At this moment, the color of a future she imagined was painted with a thick layer of black paint. And she’s in the middle of a shock that has no time limit to recover.
“Staying alive is the only thing I can think of. I’m not afraid of dying — but I don’t want to be like this, terrified and hopeless,” she says. “Every second I feel the Taliban will come after me.”