So this topic has been going round my head a lot lately. Probably because I went and DID IT.
Yup, I had botox.
And was it worth it? Hell yes!
But do I feel conflicted? Oh my gosh yes. And I’m not the only one. Botox (at my age – 37) is still very much a guilty secret among women. No one admits it! Or if they do, it’s in hushed little circles of co-conspiritors, who are about as likely to share their doctor’s details as a toddler would chocolate. Until the inevitable happens, because you know – we’re all dying slowly, it can’t be helped – and those that fight too hard end up with telltale shiny foreheads and forlorn little smiles penned into ever decreasing areas of facial mobility.
Why is Botox such a secret?
Here’s a two minute treatment that leaves us looking great but feeling guilty as sin. I mean really – isn’t angst-ing about botox just about the most self-absorbed, indulgent, first world thing you’ve ever heard? Maybe that’s another reason why everyone is still doing it, but not talking about it.
I turned to some bad ass feminists to help me get the answers I needed. If you haven’t read Caitlin Moran’s essential-for-living ‘How to Be a Woman’ FFS just mail me, I’ll send you my copy. I like her take on feminism, because she clearly empathises with, and adores men (who are, after all, adorable). She eats crisps, wears doc martins and applies a pragmatic and joyous approach to equality. Trust me, you’ll love her. Her point – and I’m paraphrasing wildly here – is that everyone should be able to do whatever the hell they want to, without fear of judgement. As long as we’re ALL freaking out about it.
“You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”
― Caitlin Moran,
And it is bullshit. Men aren’t trying to have wrinkle free faces. They may have their own woes, (unobtainable six packs, hair loss, man boobs and beer bellies to name but a few) but at least they aren’t trying to look half their age just to get taken seriously in the workplace. Men aren’t rocking up to job interviews trying to whitewash signs of experience or wisdom, quite the reverse. We live in a society where men are encouraged to grow older with aplomb. Ageism exists for both, absolutely, but for women, it is far, far worse, because at least it is rational to want to look stronger, or fitter – but it is not rational to want to deny the passing of time.
I’m almost afraid to quote Greer, lest she cast her eye upon my frivolous self. After all, she says –
A grown woman should not have to masquerade as a girl in order to remain in the land of the living.
Germaine Greer – [Age and Aging]
But look at movies! Gents well into their sixties land lothario parts, while their love interests remain perpetually cast from the 20 – 27 age bracket. (Every Bond Movie EVER) In 1988’s ‘Punchline’ Sally Field plays alongside Tom Hanks. Just a few years later, in 1994, still only 10 years older than him, Fields plays Hanks’ mother in Forrest Gump. From lover to mother in six short years. There’s a supremely fascinating article here about the difference in leading man/leading lady ages. See Harrison Ford’s graph. Awesome female actresses are cast into the wasteland at their 40th birthday, and professional female newscasters at the height of their investigative craft are usurped by next generation versions of themselves, while their male equivalents observe, slightly bemused. (You can tell they’re bemused – their foreheads can still move). Harriet Harmen, The UK’s Shadow Secretary of State researched the employment policies of six UK broadcasters in relation to aging female staff. Only 7% of the total TV workforce (on and off-screen) are women over the age of 50. Ms Harman said
The figures provided by broadcasters show clearly that once female presenters hit 50, their days on-screen are numbered.
“Selina Scott was awarded £250,000 after she sued Channel 5 for ageism in 2008, when she was 57, while Anna Ford left the BBC in 2006 aged 62, claiming she had been sidelined because of her age.” (The Guardian). This was an entirely female problem, one that Bruce Forsyths, David Attenboroughs or Jeremy Clarksons of this world will never have to dwell upon, no matter how baggy their faces get.
It seems someone is trying is trying to convince all of womankind that aging is failing. It’s quite possible that we’re trying to convince ourselves. The truth is we are constantly bombarded by pseudo-scientific bollockology that implies each and every moment that passes brings us closer and closer to an abyss – a dark, lonely, sexless pit of wrinkly doom.
If we weren’t all so immune to the pseudo-science we’d be falling around the place at this ad for the world’s most expensive product. “Regenerating Ferment (TM)!” “Youth Proteins!”. It’s an “age fighter!”. The premise that age is something that should or could be fought is, in itself, totally ludicrous. (Says see, while toting her freshly frozen features. OK – I’m an absolute hypocrite).
So yes, I’m beating myself up about the botox thing.
Here’s the actual conversation I had with the needle-toting plastic surgeon. And by the way, if someone is going to inject lethal substances into my face, it’s going to be someone with a full medical degree, and then some. Not a beautician working under supervision (as is the norm) or even a qualified dentist who’s decided to branch out. There are times when bargain basement shopping is simply a bad idea.
Me. “So, I like my wrinkles – I don’t want to get rid of them. I earned them! I don’t want to look younger. Just… less tired!”
Surgeon (With a wry smile) “Everyone wants to look younger.”
Me. “I don’t! I really don’t. I don’t want to look less experienced, but I would like to look less TIRED. What can you do for tired?”
“Emily, with all due respect – You want me to paint a picture, but then you say don’t use brushes or paint. If you want to look less tired, we can do that with a small amount of treatment here, and here. Your wrinkles will soften, your brows will relax and lift, and you will look more awake. It’s very simple.”
Me. “… I’m in. Go nuts.”
So how does it feel, really? Well it didn’t hurt AT ALL. I’ve plucked eyebrows that hurt more than the three small jabs I had at each temple. It took literally seconds. I was told not to engage in strenuous exercise for a day or so. For an hour or so I felt slightly hornswaggled – but that may have been at the theoretical audacity of having given Father Time the two fingers. Or perhaps there are chemical overtones. Whatever, but I felt a bit… shocked.
What did surprise me was that it takes a good seven days for the effects to become apparent. I always assumed it would be instant FREEZEFACE! Nope. But every day you wake up, it’s a teeny bit more apparent. And then, a week after I went (to the day) I tootled into work and five different – not usually complimentary – people told me how well rested I looked.
You can imagine their faces when I chirped, “God, no – that’s the botox!”
Because really, who says that?
As some sort of weird penance for betraying my feminist heroes, I feel like if I’m going to cheat time I may as well own it. I’m a 37 year old chronic worrier with two small children, a full time job and frequent insomnia. Of course I’m going to look fucking tired. But then the fabulous thing about feminism (and one of the reasons that I love it so much) is that its very existence means that;
a) I was free to decide if and when I would like to have children.
b) I had the luxury of combining motherhood and a career.
c) Every day, I have the freedom to change my appearance, and wear whatever the hell I like.
Without feminism we would not have control over any of these issues. Lots of women are afraid of calling themselves a feminist, but those of us who have our liberty need to keep claiming it so that it has a greater chance of spreading to where it isn’t taken for granted. Botox is absolutely a feminist issue, because it is simply one more personal liberty that is granted to those of us living in societies that have broken through the barriers that hold women back. Here and now, we have choices that others don’t.
Just last week I went out with a bunch of seven seriously impressive women friends. We went on a tour of Tapas bars in Dublin, followed by a few late night hotspots, and then until 4am we propped up the residents bar in our hotel drinking whiskey and putting the world to rights. After just four hours sleep, and a shower, I looked in the mirror. Thanks to my doctor friend, I looked almost human! It was quite remarkable. And I rejoiced. I have the privilege of living an empowered life. And I’m lucky to have the kind of friends who will drink whiskey with me, share their stories, and celebrate my decisions, no matter what. And pass me the paracetamol the next day.
So why did I try it? I guess because I could. I’m a fan of trying lots of things once. (Or twice to be sure) This extends to going blond, skydiving, bonkers sports, karaoke, most foods and all experimental dance moves. Really, unless it’s illegal or harmful – I’ll give it a go. Will I have botox again? Right now, probably not. When I balance how comfortable I am in my own skin with how broke I am, the scales come down on the No side. But if either of those factors change significantly, who knows. And I don’t regret it. For me, Botox is just another milestone in learning how to be a woman. Like getting measured for a bra, trying S&M or inviting all your friends around for a five course meal and serving them nothing but blue soup and marmalade.
I’ll leave you with some food for thought from writers far more eloquent than I, on beauty, aging, feminism and life in general.
“Every woman knows that, regardless of all her other achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful.”
― Germaine Greer,
“I want to grow old without facelifts… I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made. Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.”
― Marilyn Monroe
“Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”
― Sheng Wang
“It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass. Virtually invisible. What we need is for more birds to fly above it and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.”
― Caitlin Moran,
“The most cursory examination of even the most progressive organs of information reveals a curious inability to recognize women as newsmakers, unless they are young or married to a head of state or naked or pregnant by some triumph of technology or perpetrators or victims of some hideous crime or any combination of the above… Senior figures are all male; even the few women who are deemed worthy of obituaries are shown in images from their youth, as if the last forty years of their lives have been without achievement of any kind. If you analyse the by-lines in your morning paper, you will see that the senior editorial staff are all older men, supported by a rabble of junior females, the infinitely replaceable ‘hackettes’.”
― Germaine Greer,
“Men are visually aroused by women’s bodies and less sensitive to their arousal by women’s personalities because they are trained early into that response, while women are less visually aroused and more emotionally aroused because that is their training. This asymmetry in sexual education maintains men’s power in the myth: They look at women’s bodies, evaluate, move on; their own bodies are not looked at, evaluated, and taken or passed over. But there is no “rock called gender” responsible for that; it can change so that real mutuality–an equal gaze, equal vulnerability, equal desire–brings heterosexual men and women together.”
― Naomi Wolf,
“But, of course, you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don’t know! I still don’t know what it is! I’m too knackered and confused to work it out. That curtain pole really still isn’t up! I don’t have time to work out if I am a women’s libber! There seems to be a lot to it. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?’
So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.
a) Do you have a vagina? and
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”
― Caitlin Moran,
Still reading? Oh good 🙂
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