Many beauty salons in Turkmenistan are defying a ban by the authoritarian government on certain fashion accessories -- such as fake eyelashes and acrylic nails -- and continue to “secretly” offer the forbidden services to trusted customers, Ashgabat residents say.
On paper, most beauty salons and women’s hairdressers only provide limited services like trimming hair and simple manicures and pedicures that are not covered by the ban.
But for their loyal customers, many salons continue to offer their full array of products and services behind closed doors, many clients and salon owners told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.
Fearing random police raids on the salons, some beauticians have even started accepting customers in their homes or those of their clients, they added.
Since April, Turkmenistan has effectively banned women from wearing “excessive” make-up, tight-fitting clothes, false nails, and eyelashes as part of a broader set of restrictions on women’s freedoms.
Microblading eyebrows -- which is hugely popular among Turkmen women -- have also been banned.
Women have also been ordered not to dye or bleach their hair, get Botox injections, or cosmetically enhance their breasts or lips.
The ban came with no official announcement or explanation and is being enforced by law enforcement agencies and women’s employers.
Hundreds of women have been stopped by police because they were suspected of having lip fillers or false eyelashes. It is estimated that dozens of women have lost their jobs at the national airline and railway services for allegedly having breast implants and/or lip fillers.
But the official threats have done little to discourage women from pursuing their beauty routines, women say. Many continue to have their hair and nails done, tint their eyebrows, and wear heavy make-up despite the ban.
A small difference is that some now choose nail polish colors that are more subtle, the salon owners said. More of those wearing false eyelashes are opting for medium length to try to make them less noticeable.
Business Is Booming
Business is booming for beauticians and hairdressers who have taken a portion of their business underground to evade the draconian ban.
One Ashgabat resident said the customers and salons agree in advance about the service and that the clients usually come through a back door.
For bridal make-up, the wife-to-be visits the salon with several friends who take turns walking around the salon watching out for police who might be coming to raid the premises, several sources said.
The restrictions were first imposed shortly after new Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov came to power in March. He took over the presidency from his father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, in a managed election widely seen as a mere formality in legalizing the transfer of political power.
As part of the restrictions, women were also banned from sitting in the front seats of private and public vehicles. Drivers with women in the front seat of their vehicles have been threatened with hefty fines for breaching the new rules.
In some cities, police have rounded up couples holding hands in public. Several people who were briefly detained for such a public display of affection told RFE/RL that they were released after being given a lecture on Turkmen's traditional values and the woman’s place in the family and society.
The couples were threatened with unspecified harsh punishments for any repeat offense, eyewitnesses said.
When the ban first came into effect in early April, many beauty salons were fined after police raids or went out of business after losing so many of their customers.
But many in Ashgabat say that the restrictions have since loosened and police raids are less frequent.
According to several Ashgabat residents, some officers are now using the ban to extort bribes from the “offenders.”
Turkmenistan is one of the most repressive countries in the world. It’s also plagued by widespread poverty, unemployment, and food shortages despite sitting atop one of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. (AA/RFEL)