I Want Preventative Botox Because I'm Insecure, Not Empowered
Society has preconceptions that women remain ageless. It's impossible.
I turned 30 this year.
This birthday met me with a highly unoriginal dose of trepidation and terror because I am a sack of watery carbon in the shape of a female. Having grown up on Earth, I have been socialized to believe that it’s important that I’m attractive. We are taught about what is attractive and what isn’t through films, advertisements and social media.
In the 1950s, women were encouraged to look as much like Marilyn Monroe as they could, to embrace the soft feminine aesthetic with curled hair, red lips and rosy cheeks. Lovely. In the 1990s, women were encouraged to look like they were in the final moments of inoperable stage four cancer, complete with hollow eyes and a doleful, faraway sadness. In the 2020s, women are encouraged to look as much like Kim Kardashian as they can. An ethnically ambiguous, urban aesthetic with aggressively contoured faces and a generously upholstered bottom.
In and amongst the vicissitudes of women's attractiveness, there is a common strand that links these caricatures of successful femininity: You must always be young.
The Status of My Face at 30
I looked in the mirror on the morning of my 30th birthday and studied my face with effortless derision. Below is a list of unacceptable things I found there:
- Pores—some visible, some more akin to manholes—that can be partially remedied with meat-colored plaster that comes in expensive little vials and is applied with a brush. Like tarring a roof.
- Thread veins. Who the fuck knows what they are? But I read about them in a women's magazine once, and the only purpose of women's magazines is to keep us up to date with things we should loathe about ourselves, so I added them to the list.
- A beard, which I am undeniably growing.
- Front and center, right there on my forehead (really a fivehead), the deep crevices that bespeak a lifetime of worry and inadequate moisturizing.
Yes, I can raise my eyebrows and scowl in consternation, but at what cost? Botox, I thought.
Marketing Botox as a Preventative Measure Is Straight-Up Wrong
Botox is the injection of botulinum toxin into the soft tissues of the body. Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxic protein that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, and it works by stopping the release of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This causes flaccid paralysis. Botulism killed a lot of people in the 1800s by paralyzing their lungs and suffocating them to death. Now we pay an aesthetician £200 to inject it into our foreheads so we don’t look old. Or surprised.
Botox used to be available only to Hollywood celebrities and the like, but over the last 10 years, it has been cleverly presented as part of a modern woman's feminist/empowered self-care routine. It’s working. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that there has been a 22 percent increase in the number of millennials getting Botox between 2013 and 2018.
For example, social media describes Baby Botox for those 25 and under as a preventative measure that will mean you need fewer treatments in the future. Preventative medicine is defined as any medical treatment that aims to avoid disease and illness. Do we now consider lines on our foreheads to be a disease?
More to the point, had I missed my chance to prevent my forehead disease? I was well over the hill of 25 and was already using the creases in my head to store spare change and lip balm. I decided to set out in search of some older female role models who might be able to help me make a decision on what to do about my face.
Botox Is Just Another Way to Monetize Fear
Let’s look to the movies for some help since Hollywood-ness represents an enduring type of celebrity for the common folk to revere and emulate. Since the beginning of the Academy Awards in 1929, 13 women aged 50 or over have received an Oscar for Best Actress. Over the same period of time, 22 men aged 50 or over have been awarded an Oscar for Best Actor. Overall, female Oscar winners were nearly 10 years younger than their male colleagues. Unless you are Jane Fonda, then women in Hollywood over the age of 50 just sort of disappear.
Let’s get really real with ourselves and each other:
- We know that when we shave our legs and say it just makes us feel cleaner/nicer/more presentable, it’s because we have been taught that our body hair is disgusting.
- We know that when we put on makeup to feel good about ourselves, it’s because we have been taught that we are inherently flawed and need to spend time, energy and money on fixing this.
- When we put Botox in our heads, it is because we have been taught that it is unacceptable for us to show signs of having aged past (now, apparently) 22.
Refusing to engage in the above activities makes us feel shame. Shame is the fear that if people know X about us, they will not like us anymore. This is famously a highly effective technique for controlling people's behavior.
The expectation that we should be beautiful and young creates an ambient level of anxiety in our lives about the day where we will inevitably fail at this task and will be cast out of society like a deformed newborn of Sparta. Or a 51-year-old Hollywood actress. It is more difficult to agitate for social change, start a business or leave the house at short notice when we are constantly distracted by how young and pretty we are managing to be at any given moment.
I have a theory that we do not see saggy, wrinkly, old women in Hollywood for the same reasons we do not see hairy, ugly, makeup-less women in Hollywood. Nobody can make money from saggy, wrinkly, hairy, makeup-less women. We don’t need any products or services to become wrinkly and hairy—we can do it for free, all on our own, as the morning of my 30th birthday proved.
Aesthetic Self-Care Isn’t Self-Care at All
I shave my legs, wear makeup and engage in all manner of other forms of dark sorcery in order to comply with the myth of womanhood that I have inherited and that I despise. I am not better or wiser than you. But when the wool is being so effectively pulled over my eyes by The Corporations, or The Patriarchy, or Big Pharma, or whatever other snowflake boogeyman of the hour, I am at least not also pulling the wool over my own eyes.
The rhetorical sleight of hand that positions Botox as something that we will all inevitably need, rather than as a gendered and unnecessary surgical procedure with attendant risks, is patronizing and annoying. Getting Botox is another way to adhere to tedious and limiting patriarchal visions of femininity, where, in order to be rewarded with status, women must be conventionally attractive—thin, white, infantilized and, most importantly, young.
We insult our own intelligence by pretending that getting Botox “'just makes us feel better” without critically analyzing why it makes us feel better because we are rewarded when we conform.
I’ll see you down at the clinic, and when you tell me I am a sanctimonious hypocrite, I won't look surprised.