At 28, I’m often told that I look young for my age. I’ve been mistaken for a college intern at work. My driver’s license is routinely scrutinized when trying to buy a six pack or bottle of wine. Earlier this year I was even hit on by a particularly bold high school senior who thought that I, too, was eighteen and weighing college acceptances and potential majors.
Whenever I recount these slightly mortifying moments of age confusion, people always tell me how lucky I should feel to appear youthful. While the confusion can make for awkward situations at times, I’m not exactly complaining. It’s not like I want to look older. I know it will be a sobering day when someone thinks I look my age or, God forbid, thinks I look older (if that happens, remove all mirrors and sharp objects from my home). Thus, like most women, I do what I can to keep wrinkles at bay. I exfoliate. I buy moisturizers with ingredients that read like a National Geographic photo caption and promises to erase lines. I take what I consider to be normal, preventative measures to try to ensure my face won’t look like a raisin by the time I hit 50. At least, I thought it was normal.
The search for the fountain of youth once involved a slather of a good moisturizer. Now it apparently involves a syringe full of neurotoxins. For many women, Botox has become the new norm in the defense against aging. The use of Botox itself is nothing new. Aging actresses and Upper East Side socialites alike have been freezing their frowns for years. But today the attitude towards Botox, not to mention the openness about it, has become increasingly casual. Women of all ages are coming to view Botox as part of their regular beauty maintenance. Flash sale sites like Gilt and Groupon routinely advertise Botox discounts. Pretty much every Real Housewives franchise has an episode where the ladies sip champagne at some freezing and filling party. A friend even recently mentioned that a dermatologist acquaintance had offered to share some extra Botox (which honesty strikes me as somewhat sketchy. It’s not like passing on a free ticket to a Knicks game. This is a needle to the face, folks).
As if evidence from emails, television and dinner party conversations weren’t enough, last week Allergen, Inc., the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Botox, announced that its first quarter profits were up 45%. It definitely looks like lots of people are making the move to immobilize those wrinkles before they start. However, having been raised by a mother who was firmly in the school of “Just because everyone else jumped off a bridge…”, I can’t help but wonder if I, too, will someday be fretting then freezing my own frown lines.
I’m certainly not anti-the idea of doing whatever it takes to make yourself feel beautiful. Some people see a colorist to dye their hair. Some people visit a plastic surgeon to minimize crow’s feet. To each their own, or whatever cliche “do what you want” phrase you’re inclined to insert. Despite the current underestimations of my age, I know I’m a good candidate to potentially consider Botox down the road. I frequently forget my sunglasses and spend afternoons squinting in the sun. My default face when I’m nervous or uncomfortable is a smile. My face tends to betray every thought or emotion I have.
All the creams that Sephora has to offer can’t fight nature. Some lines creeping up around the corners of my eyes and mouth are likely. I understand the impulse to take action to stop them before they stop. I’m not saying it’s a highlight of the human condition, but our culture equates youth with beauty. Numerous studies show that life favors the beautiful in everything from personal to professional situations. Economist Daniel Hamermesh’s book Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful notes that attractive people will likely make 3% to 4% more than their aesthetically inferior counterparts. So then what is the cost benefit of buying into Botox?
For me, the biggest cost (you know, other than shooting a byproduct of botulism into your face) is the potential pain involved. I don’t know about you, but I have a rather absurd fear of needles. It’s to the point that I had the fleeting thought prior to my most recent tetanus shot, “How bad is lockjaw really?” Voluntarily getting not only injections, but injections to the face, feels like a bit of an obstacle. I decided to do some research to see just how terrifying the experience really is. (Full disclosure: my father is a plastic surgeon. However, after the 1997 “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” that included passing out from witnessing reconstructive surgery, and then subsequently spending the rest of the day in the emergency room being checked out for severe head trauma, I haven’t really taken an interest in the specifics of my father’s job.) Sifting through some plastic surgery message boards and consulting Bravo indicates that, when administered properly, the pain is fairly brief and minimal.
Yet, no matter how relatively painless Botox might be, the fact remains that it’s not a one time visit. You have to continually subject yourself to injections in your face. You can only keep those nerves down for so long before that look of calm dissipates. After three to six months, it’s another trip to the doctor. Like many beauty regimens, it’s about maintenance, and maintenance means money. Unless you get some discount through Groupon (and really, is this place to cut costs? When a syringe is in the mix?), you’re likely to spend anywhere from $300-$600 a pop. That means if I started getting Botox injections now until the age of say 65, I would spend roughly $25,000-$45,000 for this beauty regimen. That is a tad more my current Origins moisturizer routine.
Beyond the actual physical costs, there are potential emotional costs as well. Recent studies by some super smart scientists suggest that by immobilizing our facial expressions we actually might be limiting our ability to interpret emotional language. I don’t know about you, but I kind of enjoy the ability to let the people around me know that I’m upset or concerned with a look. It’s come in particularly handy with both boys and best friends. This means I will probably pay the price in wrinkles later, but isn’t it worth it to show those around you that you’re emotionally responsive? Can you imagine shedding stone-faced tears during big moments of your life like graduation or your wedding day? Even as a particularly ugly crier, I can say that I’d prefer not to look like a statue spritzed with water.
So I’m not saying never to Botox. Who knows how I’ll feel at forty-five when I’m no longer getting carded? But I am saying not now. If I started now, it’s possible I could head off a few creases here and there, but I’m not sure I’m ready to try to time on my face just yet. Besides, sunscreen is cheaper anyway.
Image via Bravo