Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
Okay, I finally did it. I'll admit it. I had Botox.
I'm 48 years old, so there's no point in lying. Apparently, everyone does it. Christine at the office has been doing it for two years and she's only 30. Andrew, too, but according to Christine he faints every time. Jennifer does it for migraines (sure!) and Audrey, well … everyone knows about Audrey. Botox, liposuction, filler, dermabrasion: You name it, she's done it.
Clearly I had been out of the loop, committed to my daily routine of face cream, night cream, under-eye cream, brown-spot remover and the Holy Grail of face care, SPF60 sun cream! Was there a simpler way?
Maybe I'd already missed critical years in the war against aging. Years of revelling in those magical words every woman wants to hear: "Wow, you look amazing! You can't be [insert any age over 40]" What if it was too late? As with good oral hygiene, regular exercise and RRSP contributions, maybe I should have started when I was younger. Frown lines, crow's feet – I had them all.
Soon after I realized that my much-younger colleagues were using Botox, I became obsessed, asking loved ones, "How old do you think I look?" As if anyone was going to tell me the truth and live to talk about it. Staring into my brand new vanity mirror with its 20x magnifier became an expedition to mine for every crevice and imperfection. "God, is that a hole in my cheek?"
I pride myself on being "in the know," beauty and fashion forward. I read People Magazine and admire those beautiful, wrinkle-free foreheads and frozen smiles. But perhaps I had been misled by certain celebrities claiming to be 100 per cent au naturel? I too wanted to believe I could cruise into my 50s with "no work" and look like Julianne Moore. But with the evidence staring back at me, line by deepening line, I had to make the call.
One week later, I was lying anxiously in the dermatologist's office, clenching rubber balls in each fist as the doctor injected small doses of botulinum toxin into my face. Small needle pricks to the corner of my eyes, top of my nose and the middle of my forehead: I was doing well, but then came the upper lip. This was the area of deepest concern (pardon the pun). As the needles went in, tears welled in my eyes. How could such a small needle hurt so much?
"Hang on," I muttered to myself. "No pain, no gain!" I squeezed those balls tighter. I was not going to faint at the dermatologist's.
Before I knew it I was done, or so I thought. No one had told me about Botox aftercare, the post-injection exercises.
"Just scrunch your face up like this," the receptionist explained as she contorted her face into an evil-looking jack o' lantern. "You need to work the Botox in. And don't be alarmed when you start to drool," she added.
Drool? Did she say drool? I had just spent $500!
"Yes," she continued, "drooling is a natural side effect as the Botox paralyzes your facial muscles. Here's a pamphlet."
"Oh God," I murmured, "don't make me read the fine print." I like to pretend that I don't need reading glasses yet, but I can't read those insanity-inducing tiny letters.
Five minutes later I was huddled in my car secretly reading the glossy brochure. "Botox may cause serious side effects including, but not limited to, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, loss of bladder control, loss of voice, trouble breathing and/or loss of life. Treatment results may vary."
"No worries," I thought. Other than my pre-existing conditions and afflictions I was feeling great, and if indeed this toxin was going to be my ultimate downfall, at least my frown lines and crow's feet would be gone. I happily went about my business with a fresh spring in my step, barely glancing in every mirror I passed.
But one week later, I was squinting into the bathroom mirror just in time to see toothpaste slowly oozing down my chin. Somehow I was unable to manoeuvre my upper lip around my toothbrush. Everything was falling out of my mouth! I was a dripping, drivelling disaster.
Damn that receptionist with her casual advice and sleek brochure! Until that toothpaste moment, I really thought I had beaten the odds. No facial paralysis nonsense for me. I had worked on my facial contortions religiously for at least five minutes on the day of the procedure. I had checked for any signs of numbing or facial tics. My eyelids were still in place, I was breathing and talking, and my bladder control had never been better.
But little did I know that Botox takes its sweet, anesthetizing time. It slowly relaxes into your muscles and gradually, effortlessly paralyzes your damn face until you're a blubbering, slobbering idiot. What had I done? My face was freezing up on me and I needed a baby's bib to brush my teeth. How was I ever going to kiss again? "Sorry for the drool, honey, but how do you think I look?"
Was this the heavy price I was going to pay for my own vanity, my insecurity about aging? Was I falling victim to our youth-obsessed culture, denying my own natural beauty, lines and imperfections included?
Dunno, but I'll think about it at my next appointment.
Catherine Fogarty lives in Toronto.