When I was younger, I made a pact with myself: I wasn't go to be Joan Rivers. I wasn't going to let my face be cut around the edges then stretched and stapled into some approximation of where it used to be. I was going to age gracefully, naturally.
Well, I'm older now, and I have a new pact: Fuck that.
No one comments on my pale green eyes anymore, probably because they've sunken into my skull and ringed themselves with concentric circles of crow's feet. There's also my cro-magnon wrinkle: a series of short, but deep, lines that connect my eyebrows into a sort of perma-scowl.
Those pesky wrinkles aren't going anywhere but deeper. Nightly applications of Kinerase have stopped my face from turning into elephant skin, but that isn't enough for me. Like a cheap polyester dress, new creases seem to appear out of nowhere. I decided it's time to up my game. With Botox. Paid for by a startup website.
Here I Go Again...
I've done a lot of crazy stuff in the name of journalism--strutting onstage in a bikini competing in a Hawaiian Tropic contest, squeezing into the tight orange shorts at Hooters to work there for a weekend, going through Army basic training, taking it all off for Playboy--and all for Jane magazine.
So I was game to give Botox a shot -- 10 actually -- and I didn't have to go far to get it done. I could walk from my house and, within five minutes, arrive at two places that offer Botox injections even in my low-rent L.A. neighborhood -- a budget cosmetology school and a mom-and-pop beauty parlor. Whether I wanted to get it done there was another question.
Botox is a medical procedure, and I wanted it done by a doctor in a doctor's office, not by some some twitchy-fingered high-school dropout who'd just done a manicure. I found a place with good reviews on Yelp.com, called to see how much it would cost, was told about $200 and booked an appointment for the following day. I've spent more on a pair of boots.
"You were probably the hottest thing to walk the planet in your 20s."
I arrived at the Cosmetique MedSpa late on a Tuesday and was greeted by the sort of smooth-skinned twentysomething that makes some women my age feel like we'll never date again. She handed me a survey and a stack of waivers which I filled out in a waiting room where a flatscreen TV pimped the spa's extensive service menu.
There were testimonials by smiling women who'd supposedly lived the Juvederm "kiss those lines goodbye" tagline and ads for Fraxel laser treatments promising "results you can see and feel." Some of the chairs in the waiting area were brown leather and seemed like a warning. Without these treatments, is leather what my skin would become? The longer I waited and listened to the commercials, the more it seemed inevitable.
Just as I was thinking I'd need to compliment my imminent Botox injection with $5,000 worth of other procedures, a freakishly wrinkle-free Dr. Ramin Sarshad ushered me into the room and onto the reclining table where he would inject my face. He brushed the bangs from my brow and asked me to smile and frown. I was quite wrinkled, he said, as kindly as one can say such a thing. The reason was my fair skin. When I griped that being fair-skinned sucked, he disagreed.
"No. You were probably the hottest thing to walk the planet in your 20s."
Key word: were. That's why I was there. Like everyone else who's found themselves on a brown leather couch excited about a needle filled with botulism, I wanted to look more "Girls Next Door," less "Real Housewives."
She Looked Flawless. I Was Sold.
I had three problem areas. My crow's feet and cro-magnon wrinkle were complimented by an ever-deepening forehead crease. All of it could be improved with Botox, the doctor said. To take care of them all would run me $700, he estimated, which was way more than I wanted to spend for results that would only last four months max.
Smiling and frowning a few more times, Dr. Sarshad said I'd get the most bang for my buck attacking my crow's feet and cro-magnon wrinkle -- for $500. As I pondered my options, he called in the woman I'd met at the front desk to demo my expected results since we had similar skin and she'd been Botox'd both in her forehead and around her eyes. She was 26 and, like me, of Swedish descent. Unlike me, she'd been getting Botox and Juvederm treatments since she was 23 because, she said, the treatments are preventative.
I'm of the mind that you shouldn't fix what isn't broken. Still, I had to admit: She looked flawless. I was sold.
Numbed with a Cosmetique branded ice pack and pin-pricked 10 times around and between my eyes, I left the MedSpa $500 poorer but full of hope. It would be another seven days before the effects fully kicked in. (Dysport works more quickly. It takes effect in just two days.) Over the next week, I found myself simultaneously hoping and dreading that the change would be noticeable. I wanted it to be the sort of thing where people would see me and think I looked better but guessed I'd gotten a haircut.
I Felt The Rigor Mortis Set In
Everyone's seen bad Botox jobs -- the women (and men) whose faces seem frozen like marionettes, unable to move anything but their eyes and mouths. I've heard of Botox'd moms who could no longer discipline their kids because their faces were Stepford-Wife blank.
It's a fine line between getting the results you want and looking like an expressionless zombie. It took a week, but gradually, I felt the rigor mortis set in, mostly between my eyes. My cro-magnon lines were almost entirely gone. My crow's feet, not so much. They were smoother, but makeup still looked like spackle.
Still, I was ecstatic. That one little smoothing seemed like a significant improvement to me, even if it did prevent me from scrunching up my nose and made my eyebrows off-kilter when I tried. My right brow now lifts about a centimeter higher than the left, though it's doubtful anyone would really notice the discrepancy because the last time I knowingly made that face for a boyfriend, he told me I looked ugly and suggested I never do it again. Suffice to say, that boyfriend and I are no longer together.
But I digress. Post-Botox, I felt happier. I felt I looked younger. And feeling younger made me smile and laugh a lot more than I normally do, which probably made me seem (ever so slightly) younger to strangers.
I Was Sure My Face Had Gone Quasimodo
Unfortunately, smiling now makes me feel self-conscious because I'm so aware of my upper cheeks. The Botox injected around my eyes physically prevents them from moving fully. The first time I was aware of this was at a dinner party. Each time I laughed, my face felt so constricted that I was sure it had gone Quasimodo. No one was looking at me as if it had, but I was compelled to double-check in the bathroom mirror. A few fake smiles reassured me that how my face felt and how it looked were now independent of each other. My face looked normal. It just felt weird.
It might have looked, and felt, even weirder if I'd gotten the shots in my forehead and could no longer move my eyebrows, but I didn't. I'm still completely able to move everything above my lash line, which begs the question: Did my doctor rip me off, or did he do a stellar job?
If the expectation is to appear borderline cryogenic, wasn't I supposed to look more different? It's been a few weeks since my injection, and almost no one I come into contact with has told me I looked great or even good -- with one exception. I recently saw an older male friend whom I hadn't seen in three years. His first words to me were, "You look fantastic," but I don't attribute that comment to the Botox. I had just gotten my hair done. I was also wearing heels and a low-cut blouse, and the other women around me were nearing retirement. So, strictly comparatively, I probably did look "fantastic."
As for strangers, no more guys, which is to say any guys, checked me out than they did before I'd gotten shot up. Botox, it seemed, was a bust as far as public perception was concerned. At age 44, I'm already becoming sexually invisible. Botox didn't do anything to change that. [I don't think this sexual invisibility thing needs to happen. I think we can change this old way of thinking. This also might be a moment for me to just say that I am not advocating the use of Botox. I think it would be wonderful if we could all age naturally and consider that beautiful and model that for younger women. What you do with your face and body is up to every individual, of course. I also want to thank Sue for her beautiful writing and for going through so many exercises in being "the perfect female" for me over the years ]
"No, Mom. Your face looks like your face."
I'd told exactly one person I'd gotten Botox -- a close friend and colleague who spends a good portion of each work week staring at my face because he's paid to videotape it for the Los Angeles Times, where I write and do video reviews of cars and motorcycles. He's been videotaping my face almost weekly for the past four years. After my botulism had kicked in, I repeatedly stuck my face in his, asking if he noticed any difference. Did he, did he? Huh? Huh?
"None," he said. "You look exactly the same to me."
What a joy kill. The possibility that my appearance had been dramatically improved for a mere $500 treatment had been enough to make me feel better about myself as a whole -- to embrace the illusion that I actually did look better. But my friend's comment pretty much ended that.
The only other person who spends any amount of time with my face these days, other than me, is my eight-year-old son, who, much to my chagrin, regularly plays with my loose neck and elbow skin.
He's an observant boy, a boy who doesn't keep his observations to himself. Even he said nothing about my face, so one night I casually asked: "Do I look any different to you?" I smiled and tried to wrinkle my nose, which, when I do, now makes me feel like I might sneeze.
"No, Mom. Your face looks like your face."
So it does. Maybe I just need more Botox.