By Kevin Reagan
Raihana Nadem grew up in a place where she wasn’t allowed to pursue her passion for beauty makeup and cosmetology.
The 28-year-old Chandler resident was raised in Afghanistan, where she didn’t have the freedom to change her appearance – or make most any other decision for herself.
The country’s customs often dictated how Nadem had to dress and behave in public – which never made much sense to her.
“If I don’t want to be covered,” she said of the traditional veil and headdress, “there shouldn’t be any problem.”
Afghanistan has long had a troubling reputation for its treatment of women as the country has endured decades of war, turmoil, and political instability.
Human rights organizations have regularly disparaged the country’s track record on gender equality and have repeatedly called on the government to make its laws more hospitable to women.
Nadem said she grew up observing ambitious women attacked by terrorists who felt threatened by their boldness and whose civil rights were suppressed.
Although her parents pushed Nadem and her five sisters to pursue an education, there were some fields of study that were still inaccessible in her country’s patriarchal society.
“Women being a cosmetologist, a hairdresser, a makeup artist — that doesn’t exist,” Nadem said. “If it does, they get targeted all the time… just because they want to make others look more beautiful.”
Nadem initially worked as a civil engineer for construction contractors before deciding to switch career paths as she was preparing to immigrate to the United States.
She dreamed of working in the beauty industry and opening up a salon in some American town where she’d have the freedom to experiment with a variety of products.
But her parents weren’t exactly thrilled about Nadem changing careers and immersing herself into a profession that felt foreign to them.
“They were not very happy but they are now,” Nadem said.
After educating herself in various beauty practices for the last few years, Nadem is preparing to open a new salon in Chandler later this month at 3731 S. Arizona Ave. near Ocotillo Road called Bella Vita Med-Spa.
Clients will be able to book appointments for facial and body sculpting treatments designed to make themselves feel more confident about their appearance.
Every customer will hopefully walk out of Bella Vita with a smile, Nadem said, and feel comforted by the spa’s welcoming atmosphere.
“We treat our clientele like kings and queens,” she said.
Bella Vita offers a combination of high-tech services and old-fashion holistic remedies to sculpt a client’s face to their satisfaction.
Botox, lip tinting, eyebrow threading,and laser hair removal are some of the modern services Nadem’s currently offering. She also uses some basic, organic products for her selection of anti-aging facials.
Nadem said some of her techniques are inspired by the knowledge her mother gave her about how to use natural ingredients for beauty regimens.
Afghanistan didn’t offer much of a supply for cosmetics, she noted, so Nadem’s family often had to grind up plants and spices for a homemade cream to clear up acne breakouts.
“All I had was herbs and my mom was teaching us how to have flawless skin,” Nadem said.
Bella Vita’s treatments range in price from $50 to $1,000 per session and customers can earn a discount by signing up for a membership.
Nadem said her goal is to keep her prices low in order to make them accessible for a wide cross-section of clients.
“I want every woman, every man to be able to afford the newest technology or holistic side,” she added.
Bella Vita’s won’t be the first business Nadem has started on her own.
Shortly after immigrating to the U.S., she and her husband settled down in North Dakota and Nadem decided to open up a barbershop.
She managed to attract dozens of customers each day by opening up a bar inside the salon and serving beers to clients as they got their hair trimmed. The unique idea caught on fast and Nadem’s appointment book was swiftly filling up on a daily basis.
Success seemed to come quickly, Nadem said, but not all the locals were thrilled to see an immigrant woman with a thriving business in their town.
There were some slight instances of racism and discrimination, she recalled, yet she tried to not let them detour her from achieving her goals.
To Nadem, her treatment in America was still far better than the oppression she felt back in Afghanistan. So, she simply tried to ignore the barbs and slurs that competitors threw at her.
“Those seem really minor because my skin is way more thick,” Nadem said. “I am enjoying my freedom to a dangerous level. This is a dream.”
Living each day in Arizona feels like a vacation compared to where Nadem lived before, she added, and the Valley seems like the perfect place for her spa business to expand in the years to come.
“I’m working hard to live as many dreams as I have,” she said.
Bella Vita held a soft opening and plans its grand opening April 10. Information: 480-356-9179 or bellavitamedspas.com.