'Beauty School' Lifts Veil Off Afghan Women

ByABC News via logo
January 8, 2009, 12:24 AM

April 9, 2007 — -- There's a place in Afghanistan where burqas come off and women let loose: the beauty salon.

Shut down after the Taliban took control of the country in 1999, salons have re-emerged as safe havens for Afghan women. Deborah Rodriguez's Kabul salon is one of the best.

"It's the only place in this country where women are in complete control of everything that goes on," Rodriguez said about the beauty salon. "It's a safe place."

The American-born hairdresser and mother of two came to Afghanistan in the spring of 2002 as part of a humanitarian aid group. She never left, and she shares her story in her new book, "The Kabul Beauty School."

"When I got here, I was completely useless because it was a medical team so I just went kind of randomly around to different salons and started seeing how harsh the situation was," she said. "And I'd never actually been in a place that had been so destroyed before where they were just wanting to be normal."

Word whispered through the streets that an American hairdresser had arrived in Kabul.

Rodriguez returned to her hotel room every night to find sticky notes taped to her door asking for haircuts. Inspired by their resilience, Rodriguez decided to help the women of Afghanistan reclaim a piece of their lives with a beauty school.

How could a school teaching the fine points of wedding hair and eyebrow threading be of use in a country where so many of the women cover their heads and hide their faces? Rodriguez said that covered or not, an Afghan woman's face was almost always flawless.

"You should check under the burqas," she said. "These women are so meticulous with their hair, with their makeup always -- they really try to outdo each other completely."