By Carin Chea
Naz Meknat is an accomplished Hollywood stylist who is living her dream. But the road to this dream didn't come easy. It rarely does, but Naz's story is the stuff of the poignant movies she styles for.
Having escaped persecution and abuse in her native Iran, Naz rose to Hollywood prominence as a wardrobe stylist and has detailed her story in a personal and intimate narrative. She not only overcame devastating obstacles, but was the protagonist, warrior, and savior in her hero's journey.
Her memoir, 7000 Miles to Freedom, is her first foray into writing, yet will be a lasting resource for generations to come.
You have had a fascinating life journey thus far. Tell us about that.
My journey starts when I'm just four years old. It is about growing up in Iran during the revolution and the extremist Islamic government take-over. The chaos in the country is reflected in my own life. The story is about what it was like growing up under such a strict government and not being able to do anything a normal kid or teenager does.
Dating is forbidden and illegal under Islamic laws. If you walked around with a guy who wasn't your husband or brother, you'd get jail time. To avoid being arrested by the morality police and face my conservative and strict father and against my family's will, I married my first ever boyfriend right after I graduated high school.
My whole family gradually moved to California, and I stayed behind with my new husband. Our fairytale didn't last long and after a short time, I found myself in an extremely abusive relationship. Finally, I got the courage to tell someone.
I knew that if I didn't speak up or tell anyone, I wouldn't have much longer to live. So, I told my sister, and I fled my country overnight.
What prompted you to write your memoir?
I'm a very private person so this wasn't an easy decision. The friends I made when I moved to the US didn't know about my past. I never told anyone my story. I thought, "What's the point of bringing all this up?" I wanted to leave the past behind and learn how to fit in and learn how to live in this new country, work on perfecting my English and immerse myself in this new culture.
But when the 'Me Too' movement happened, I was speaking to a friend of mine about the movement and the bravery of the women who were coming forward and speaking about their painful experiences with the physical and sexual abuse.
She noticed a passion in my tone she hadn't heard before. She asked me a few questions and I disclosed a little bit of my own journey, not the full story of course. She was shocked and told me that I needed to write about the events in my life. I still wasn't convinced.
A year or 2 went by, and I noticed that whoever heard the bits and pieces of my life story was very fascinated and encouraged me to write about it.
After a while, it became a responsibility to share my story. I thought about myself when I was a young girl, back at home, stuck and imprisoned. I had no way out. I thought: "If I had actually read a story like mine, I would have left sooner. I would've asked for help a lot earlier."
It wasn't about me anymore. My reservations were gone; I had to go for it. This was way bigger than me. I needed to share this, even if it helped only one young woman across the world in a similar situation, looking for a glimpse of hope.
What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
The biggest thing is: there is always help if you just ask. I grew up in a country that after the Islamic revolution women don't have a lot of rights. Our freedom was completely taken away from us. We are the property of a man.
Before we get married, we are the property of our fathers. When we get married, we are the property of our husbands. Even if your husband beats you every night and you go to the police, they'll laugh at you and send you back to him. So, I couldn't go to the authorities. There were no non-profits or organizations to help women in Iran. There were no resources for us.
My support and refuge was my own sister who lived thousands of miles away in the United States. I finally decided to tell her what was happening, and once I made that decision and I found the courage to tell her, everything changed within an hour.
There are so many resources here in the United States. In Europe and most countries in the world, I want women to know no matter where in the world they are, no matter the situation, talk to someone, a trusted family member, a friend, your neighbor, don't stay in an abusive relationship. Someone cares and is willing to help.
I follow a lot of stories on domestic abuse and violence. What I see is heartbreaking. I see a lot of women staying in relationships even when there are many red flags. You can clearly see this is just the beginning and it's just going to get worse and worse.
I read so many stories where women and innocent young girls end up dead. Gun violence is a big problem in this country and there are numerous cases where the victim is shot in a drunken rage by their abuser.
I want to tell these women: "Please understand this isn't going to get better. It's just going to get worse. Whatever happens, after you leave, it's not going to be worse than your current situation." It won't be overnight, but if you put one foot in front of the other, it will get better.
Do you see yourself writing again soon?
The story in this book ends when I arrived in the United States. But, obviously, now that I'm a stylist in Los Angeles, my life is very different. I work with celebrities, attend Hollywood and fashion events, red carpets, etc., and I'm always asked, "How did you get here?"
I had a feeling, especially after people read the first book, they'd want to know. My friends very bluntly tell me, after hearing my story: "Honestly, we thought you were from a wealthy Persian family, and you liked fashion, and daddy gave you money to go to school and start a business."
Far from it, I worked very hard to get where I am today and I'm by no means where I want to be yet. There is more work to be done and writing this book was the start of fulfilling my purpose. So yes, I see a possibility of writing a second book and continue my story after I arrived here in the United States to the present day.
What advice would you give to someone seeking to start anew in life?
It's not overnight. You must know what you want and have a vision. My whole family lived in Orange County when I moved to the States. That's where I was for the first 12 or 13 years. But I knew I didn't belong in the suburbs. I knew I wanted to move to LA.
I loved fashion and film and wanted to do something in the creative space. I wasn't the person who just wanted to get married, have kids and live by the beach. Not that there is anything wrong with that but that just wasn't something that excited me.
By the time I figured out what exactly it was I wanted to do, I was 28 years old. But I didn't let that stop me. I enrolled at the fashion institute of design and merchandising, in downtown Los Angeles, got a part-time job to support myself through school, and just went for it. I was the oldest person in my classes, all my classmates were right out of high school.
After graduating from college, I made a plan, started my styling business and when I felt I was ready I took a leap of faith and moved to LA without knowing anyone. I networked, made friends, found some freelance work and I worked harder than anyone on set to prove myself till I finally made it. See it, believe it and you will have it.
Who would play you in your biopic?
Good question. There are so many talented actors out there. Some in my own circle of friends. I'd have to collaborate with the directors and producers on that one, but I definitely have a couple of people in mind.
For more information, please visit https://NazMeknat.com.