I heard about Botox while reading a beauty magazine in the early 2000s, before "Botched Botox" slide shows featuring the frozen faces of celebrities were everywhere on the internet.
The article showed a diagram of muscles in the face and talked about the new technology of injecting a substance — technically poison, it was quick to point out — to paralyze them. It was pretty certain, the article said, there weren't going to be major side effects, and the procedure could be a coup for those who didn't want to quite look their age.
"Why would anyone worry about looking their age?" 12-year-old me wondered, flipping through pages upon pages of airbrushed models.
Sun, Aging, and Skincare
Although I am not yet 30, I grew up under the Arizona sun and spent most of my childhood summers in a backyard pool, sans sunscreen. I soaked up the vitamin D but also the sun damage. Although I eat healthily and live an active lifestyle, my skin was losing some of the effortless, taut glow of my early 20s.
A few years ago, I noticed that, due to stress and insomnia, my skin was becoming duller. As more little lines appeared, I started to read beauty blogs. Spreading bronzer onto only certain parts of my face to achieve something called "contouring" isn't quite my jam, but I love reading about skincare.
Seeing somewhere that a vitamin C serum might help, I trudged into Sephora, asked for a sample, and went on my way. I applied the serum once a day or so for the next few days, not expecting much.
I was wrong. Not only was my skin glowing, but the two or three acne spots had disappeared. Skincare for me went from "a way for insecure people to keep themselves busy" to "a small amount of time and money that I can invest in my appearance." I bought a cleanser, some toner, a serum, and a moisturizer and started my routine.
For a while, it worked well. But one vitamin C serum turned into another exfoliating toner, then something called an essence, then something else that was not a serum but not not a serum, called an ampoule — a more concentrated version of a serum with a higher number of active ingredients. I read the recommendations of the skincare-obsessed, whose lists of products totaled several hundred dollars or more. I just couldn't afford that.
While my skin was better when I followed my new routine, it still wasn't perfect. The lines on my forehead were still around. I didn't hate them, but I didn't love them.
When I discussed this with a friend whose skin I always considered perfect, she made a surprising confession: She did Botox every six months or so. It was quick and easy, she said, and her skin had never looked better.
I was shocked. Most of the time, when we see Botox discussed, it's speculation about why a 50-something celebrity has a strikingly smooth, somewhat frozen face. Usually, there are harsh, overexposed paparazzi photos in which the subjects look cornered. "PLASTIC SURGERY FAILS," the headlines blare, ignoring that Botox is not even close to surgery.
I had never imagined that someone I knew and respected could have had Botox, especially not one of my best friends. She wasn't a Real Housewife or a D-list celebrity, or even someone whom I considered all that vain.
Someone in her nursing program was learning how to do it and practiced on her. Not so much that her face looked frozen — it was a small difference that mostly no one noticed, she said, but it fixed everything about her forehead that she didn't like. She loved it.
I did a bit of research. Not only were there minimal side effects (a slight headache, maybe), but it also could be preventative: Future wrinkles couldn't develop in the paralyzed muscles, so starting earlier could be beneficial.
I made an appointment that day.
A Big Payoff
The day of the appointment, I was nervous. I thought about canceling.
The nurse who did my injections was professional and kind. She had me scrunch my face so she could see the lines more clearly and put marks where she was going to inject. Because I am still, technically, what they call "young," the amount she injected was minimal.
While any injectable that paralyzes the face is usually called "Botox," what I got was Dysport, which is cheaper and results in less of a frozen look. It takes a few days to notice a difference, and a few weeks for it to set in totally.
Every day, I would examine my forehead to see which line had melted away the night before. My forehead started glowing and my eyebrows developed the slightest lift — an effect I had not anticipated but was thrilled by. I looked far less tired when I woke, especially on mornings when I hadn't gotten much rest the night before.
It's hard to be a woman, especially in a world where real-life, flesh-and-blood people are held to a standard set by airbrushed supermodels. They want us to be beautiful, but not vain. They want us to be thin, but not bore anyone with how we got that way. How we look is thought to be a reflection of who we are, and calling each other "beautiful" is considered the highest of compliments.
Even if we concede that beauty is the highest good (and I don't think we should, by the way), it's strange to me that it's totally socially acceptable to talk about a $200 skincare and makeup purchase from Sephora, but not about the $150 Dysport injections that improved my skin more dramatically than the skincare could have. Everyone talks about Botox like it's the height of vanity and frivolousness, but we live in a vain society, and especially if you have sun damage or not-perfect genetics, Botox isn't a huge expense — and it has a huge payoff.
It's funny that we shrug when people put chemicals on their skin but we're shocked when they inject chemicals into it. It's funny that we, fundamentally, value the skin of young people more than the skin of old people, then shame people for trying to have younger-looking skin.
As a feminist, I understand that getting Botox is my decision and really no one else's business. I understand that we live in a world of mixed-up priorities, many of which conflict. I understand that wrinkles aren't the end of the world. I understand that our idea of beauty is arbitrary and doesn't hold the moral value we pretend it does, but also that if I want to paralyze a few of the muscles in my face to avoid those wrinkles, that decision is mine alone and holds no moral value.
I wish everyone else understood.