Beauty and the Expression of Emotion: Cosmetic Botox

Debbie says:

picture showing points on the face where Botox is injected

Botox is botulinum toxin, and the reason you don’t eat food from a can that has swelled or been broken open. It’s an extremely dangerous poison, which also has some substantial medical uses, generally relief of nerve pain. It functions by paralyzing the nerves in the skin, so it limits skin motion and skin feeling. It is hugely popular for managing wrinkles and face changes in aging women. As you see above, Botox clinics are very precise about “fixing” a woman’s face.

Jean Marie at Millihelen has tried it twice:

I’d been asking various dermatologists for years if they thought I was “ready” for Botox. I never knew exactly what I meant, but hoped the experts would have an opinion, which of course they did not.

“Do you feel ready for it? What issues are you trying to address?”

I didn’t really feel ready for it. And the issue was aging in a society that cannot wait to toss me in a dumpster at the first sign of decline….

Long story short: the actual procedure takes about five minutes and a tiny bit of the type of pain we are all used to—that of a typical injection. In my hood, it costs anywhere from $200 to $500 a pop, give or take, depending on your proximity to Beverly Hills.

How much  a woman needs to worry about signs of aging varies based on lots of circumstances, but one of them is surely where she lives. As Jean Marie says, Southern California is an extremely looks-based area, and plastic surgery is common and comparatively inexpensive. As a beauty editor, she faces a different set of expectations than someone in another profession, or another part of the world.

All I really wanted was a little eye opener and maybe for that permanent, angry crease between my brows to be softened. When I smile, my crows feet are long and prominent, but they are also the signature ingredient to the outward expression of my happiness. The reverse is true of my scowl lines, or “the 11s,” as Botox marketers have rebranded them. I wasn’t interested in stunting my full smile capabilities, but maybe not being able to scowl could win me some new friends, or a promotion, or some sex, or something? …

The past few weeks have actually been not just physically odd, but emotionally trying. I’m severely self-conscious for the first time since high school. Not being able to feel a part of your body that you use constantly as a means of relating to other people is intensely frustrating. (Scarily, there’s evidence that not being able to express empathy through mimicry and mirroring inhibits the ability to feel empathy. Yikes.) … I can’t really explain to my two-year-old why her mom’s face doesn’t move the way it used to; why I can’t do any of this fun stuff she’s so fond of.

What interested me the most was Jean Marie’s conclusion:

I’ll present a half-baked theory to you here: I believe it is a tool of oppression, no less sinister and insidious for the fact that its users willingly self-administer. The primary function of Botox is to paralyze faces, locking our feelings and natural reactions inside stony facades. And it is overwhelmingly women’s faces being frozen…. And, yes, obviously, contrary to my experience, many of those women believe it does make them prettier (or have pursued it for reasons that aren’t strictly cosmetic). Fair enough. But hidden in that belief is the nefarious notion that stifling our ability to express emotion is a key ingredient of beauty.

Jean Marie is exactly correct. Despite the “you’re beautiful when you’re angry” cliche, our media-managed cultural definition of beauty doesn’t only depend on those dozens of specifics of face, hair, age, height, bodily structure, and so forth. It also depends on radiating a particular relaxation, calm, and balance. You might be thought beautiful when you’re a little bit angry, and your eyes sparkle and your cheeks brighten, but you are never going to be conventionally beautiful when you are in a fury and your face is beet-red and all your facial muscles are working overtime to keep you from crying with pure rage. You are never going to be conventionally beautiful in deep grief, when your eyes are leaking and your skin is blotchy from crying. You are never going to be considered beautiful in depression, when you can’t be bothered to manage those facial muscles the way you’ve been trained. “Beauty” of this sort is about being an easy object for the gaze (usually male) around you, and making no demands on the gazer. Emotions are demanding, and beauty can’t be.

I hope Jean Marie takes these thoughts into her work as a beauty editor; if she can find a way to write about beauty in the context of strong emotion, the ripples from that change could be significant indeed.

 

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