Fashion Designer Tala Raassi: On Surviving 40 Lashes
Iranian bikini designer Tala Raassi has overcome quite a few odds to become who she is today. Her most searing memory was being lashed 40 times after her 16th birthday. The crimes? Having a co-ed party, listening to non-approved music, AND the biggest one of all, wearing a miniskirt.
When Tala turned sixteen, she drove over to a friend’s house for her Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She wore the traditional Iranian garb, but quickly shed off the layers when she was indoors. With her shirt and mini-skirt, she listened to music and chatted with her friends at the party (there was no alcohol or drugs).
Without warning, the Iranian religious police busted open the door and started screaming at the kids. It is illegal in Iran to wear uncovered clothing, to listen to non-approved music, and to hold parties with the opposite sex.
All 30 kids were driven to a local jail where the boys and girls were then separated into different cells. They stayed in the dark, rat-infested cells for four days, uncertain about their fates.
On the fifth day, they were driven to the court where the judge issued their sentences: 50 lashes for the boys, 40 lashes for the girls.
Raasi describes the moment in Marie Claire magazine:
There’s a memory that has defined my life: I’m standing in line in a long, dark hallway, handcuffed to a friend, while listening to the horrifying sound of two other friends screaming out in pain. I’m in a jail in Iran’s capital, Tehran, and I’m about to be served my punishment: 40 lashes. My friends emerge from a room down the hall, tears streaming down their faces and blood staining the backs of their shirts. I can barely breathe as I wait for the guards to call my name. Finally, it’s my turn. My friend and I, still cuffed, enter the torture room together.
Two expressionless, middle-aged female guards, each dressed in a chador, or long black robe, remove our cuffs, then instruct us to lie facedown on a pair of bare mattresses. We will be lashed on our backs. The guards grab two black leather whips and dip them in water, to make the lashes sting. I turn my head and see them raise the whips high in the air, then I squeeze my eyes tight, terrified. The first of 40 lashes comes down hard across my back. I feel a shock of searing pain. I’m wearing a cotton T-shirt, which you’d think would be preferable to wearing nothing at all, but I soon learn that it’s actually worse. As the lashes come down one after another, the T-shirt starts to stick to the cuts on my back; the whip pulls the shirt away from the welts after each lashing, intensifying the pain. I keep thinking, I can’t believe this is happening to me. I’m a good student; I come from a great family. I’m not a criminal.
The worst part is knowing that my family members, who are sitting right outside this room, can hear the lashing. The emotional pain is almost worse than the physical pain.
After that moment, her life changed. She moved to Washington D.C shortly after graduation and decided to become a fashion designer. Why? “Because to me, fashion equaled freedom,” Raassi said with conviction.
After a few years, the Dar Be Dar (which means “door to door” in Persian) fashion line was born. Find out more about Raassi below.