I Got Botox
The wonder drug from which you should run, screaming.
On my 30th birthday I sat in an office in Beverly Hills and winced while a doc shot 40 ccs of botulism into several holes that he made in my face.
Freezing my face was a big mistake. I know that now. I think. The problem is, I did it three times, each time unhappy with the result, each time going back for more. My high school once had a headmistress who became famous for accidentally shooting her lover in the back – nine times. So it was with me and Botox. Somehow, it just kept happening.
The first time, I sat for a few minutes in a waiting room before the doctor arrived. On one wall hung a giant poster of Greta Garbo. Comforting. I was following in the footsteps of the great beauties of history… by turning my face into impassive, impenetrable mask. Actually, my modern-woman’s lot was much better. I didn’t have to paste up my eyebrows with stick’um. Science would smooth my brow.
The doctor arrived. First we quickly cleared him of all possible wrongdoing with the necessary paperwork. I jokingly asked him why the price of Botox hadn’t come down yet, and he told me, very seriously, that he’s not the one profiting; he barely makes anything off a sitting.
“So you’re saying it’s a loss leader?”
He laughed and said yes. Apparently, Botox is plastic surgery’s gateway drug.
“OK, another question. Would it be possible just to clear up the line between my eyes, and leave the rest alone?”
He paused, and gave me a look.
“But what about the rest of your lines? Your forehead…” he trailed off, confused.
“I know. It’s just that it’s the line between my eyes that I’m really worried about. The rest doesn’t really bother me.”
“Well, if we cover more ground – here, and here, and here, and oh yes, probably here,” he said, dusting my face with his fingertips,” I think you’ll have a more natural result.”
“Natural?! We’re talking about using a toxin to disable my face.”
He laughed back – notably, without the involvement of his forehead.
“Don’t worry, I hate the frozen look. You’ll have the lift you need around your eyebrows.”
“Please don’t make me look like Joe Biden.”
“You won’t look like Joe Biden.”
I broke down pretty easily. Three days later I had the faint ability to raise the far corners of my eyebrows.
It’s been several years now since my last injections. On Botox, I was crippled. I couldn’t communicate through my face. It is a silencing, of sorts. (That said, I got very resourceful about relying on the unfrozen features to pick up the slack. In other words, I was turning myself into PeeWee Herman. A most natural result.)
I am endlessly fascinated, and a little bit worried, that so many women are willing to be silenced. From 1997 to 2011, there was a 356 percent increase in the total number of “minimally-invasive procedures such as injectables, skin resurfacing and laser procedures.” It seems that the culture has gone through its period of hemming and hawing, perfected the process, and now settled into a comfortable relationship with the procedure. One nation, under God, with Botox for all (who can afford it).
Well, screw that. Having just been to my dermatologist for a mole check and found myself surrounded by advertisements for this wonder drug, I’m reopening the conversation.
Ultimately, the true allure of Botox isn’t the promise of a forehead like a slick bubble.
Botox is power, or the illusion of. It’s the idea that for $350, you can march yourself to a doctor’s office, a medispa, or your BFF’s living room, grit through five minutes of pain, and stop time. Zap! Stop society’s presumptions about being a woman of a certain age. Zap! Stop your worry about the aging process. Zap!
It’s not unlike smoking. Reduce smoking to its raw components and you’ve got a dirty ashtray: Tastes bad. Smells bad. Wastes money. Causes cancer. Smoking, unlike Botox, is on the decline. But people still do it. In some essential way, it feels good. It anchors a moment. It connects you to a sexy legacy, to youth, to reckless good times and a mystique famously epitomized by John Derek in the film Knock on Any Door, 1949: “Live fast, die young, leave behind a good looking corpse.”
Except Botox… Botox is better. It’s completely harmless, on the face of it. It lets you live fast and die old with fewer signs of all that fun.
As we get old, we have to be more careful. Get our sleep. Tend to our more fickle waistlines, nurse our weary joints. We make more visits to the doc, where he prescribes pills and exams that grow increasingly invasive as the years pass. Against this backdrop, giving up an eyebrow wiggle to feel young again doesn’t seem like such a sacrifice.
But what does it say about female identity ? We are in a sad state if Botox becomes an assumed ritual of the cultural transition from girlhood to womanhood. In some sad way it seems like Botox is exactly the product society would prescribe for women. Not to make us beautiful, but to make us quiet.
At 20, we are allowed to skip, to leap and to frolic – with our bodies and with our faces. We are encouraged and rewarded for a wide of expression: I could grimace in disgust, screw my face up with delight or anger, frown in frustration, even sing with glee, every muscle of my face lit up with joy.
At 30, there’s a sense that my range of motion should be more limited. I should be dignified. I should be elegant. I should be in control of myself, and my emotions.
For all this, Botox is a partial solution. The serene gaze of unflappable 30s, delivered instantly in a vial. “What?!” you say. “I’m 35/45/55 and I have as many feelings, and as potent, as ever?” Exactly! Botox is here for you.
It’s not just about women. Men get Botox too, I know. And many people, for many reasons, use their bodies as a way to exert control against the terror of a world we can’t control at all. It’s not always destructive. For example, tattoos: individuality carved into flesh; a mark of permanence on a body that is constantly changing. And tattoos, even their haters must admit, don’t limit your range of motion. They make you more unique, not less.
Acting on the body makes us feel in control. But maybe we should see Botox as the 30+ crowd’s version of teenagers cutting their arms up. Anything’s better than feeling the pain.