#LivingYourBestLife: “Good” Iranian Women Don’t Model – 71 Years in the Making

By on August 27, 2018

This is a story about a journey that took 71 years. Beauty is something that no one can really define but many can appreciate. Tehran, Iran is one of the places in the world where many women hide their beauty rather than model it, and young girls are rarely complimented out of fear that they will be jinxed. 

Gila Michail was one of those women who did not realize the beauty she had. In the late 1960’s she left Iran for a short period to attend boarding school in England, something only girls from upper class families were lucky enough to do. This was her first time living outside of Iran and the culture shock was huge. Within the first few weeks of studying in Kent, a talent scout approached her to see if she would consider a career as a model. At first she thought he was joking, because in her mind she was not beautiful at all. No one had ever told her that she was beautiful. In fact, she thought she was too thin and her lips were too big. Once she realized that this man was the real deal, she had a split second of excitement for the glamorous and exciting places this could take her. But reality interrupted this fantasy and she explained that she could never do such a disrespectful thing to her family and that “her father would kill her”. This was not a joke. Any woman in Iran would be disowned if she posed in front of a camera to sell a product. She would never be able to show her face in public because the message was that her family was inadequately able to provide for her leading to no option but to sell her beauty. In fact, being on a billboard or in an advertisement for a product descends your social status so quickly to the point where no one associates with you. 

The story of this journey continues in the United States. It was 1980 when the Iranian Revolution happened and Gila, her new husband and baby girl fled their country and found a new home in New York City. They had to start their lives from zero, which was a difficult transition from the upper class life they led in Iran to their new found struggle of making ends meet. Once again, Gila was approached by another agency requesting her to consider a career in modeling. This time, her answer was “my husband will kill me”. She knew full well that their lives would be significantly easier with the dual income, but with the Iranian culture strong in her heart and mind, she realized that becoming a model would be the ultimate blow to her husbands’ already bruised ego. The struggles immigrants face are humbling to say the least but the Iranian community was transplanted from Iran to New York. Gila and her husband worked hard to maintain a good honorable life and modeling would never be accepted.

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In the 90’s Gila, her husband and 2 daughters moved again, this time to Los Angeles.  This is where the offers for modeling happened more and more often. Despite her longing to do it Gila’s answer was always the same, “no”. Years passed and Gila worked 6 days a week for 20 years straight in their family business of men’s fashion. She became a superstar in her work and dressed Hollywood’s most interesting people such as Prince. 

Sadly, her marriage dissolved and so did her business. During this difficult time Gila was surrounded by her kids and sons-in-law. One day, her older daughter asked if she would like to consider being a senior model. Gila’s father was no longer alive and her husband was no longer in her life so the worry about defaming them was no longer a concern. She took a chance and said yes despite the underlying uncertainty of her own beauty. She was sure that the modeling ship had sailed and that she was not of the age to do this anymore. Her daughter pushed back and said that this was her chance to follow a lifelong dream that was worth a try. It took 2 days, and she was signed with LA Models, a top modeling agency. Today, Gila comes alive in her photo shoots and enjoys every minutes of the life she lives. She is extremely active, enjoys her friends, Zumba dancing, hiking, beach walks and has recently started weight lifting too. It took 71 years but as Gila says, it’s never too late to follow your dream. Age is just a number.

Written by: Sheila Morovati


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#LivingYourBestLife: “Good” Iranian Women Don’t Model – 71 Years in the Making