Category Archives: aging

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.

 

Aging: Gray Hair Is Still Out, but Sex Is In

Debbie says:

Karen Kay at the Observer has a fine long article on gray hair in women.

Judi_Dench_at_the_BAFTAs_2007Kay starts out discussing the way Hillary Clinton and other women in politics and public life are expected to spend inordinate time on their looks:

Let’s transport ourselves back to 2001 and Yale, one of the world’s pre-eminent universities. New York senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton has returned to her alma mater to deliver words of wisdom to graduating law students. She takes to the podium and begins: “The most important thing I have to say to you today is that hair matters. Your hair will send significant messages to those around you: what hopes and dreams you have for the world, but more, what hopes and dreams you have for your hair. Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.”

When we speak in public, Laurie and I often mention the multi-billion-dollar diet industry (which is now somewhere in the high $60 billion range), but hair is an even bigger business, forecast to be $83.1 billion in 2016.  I don’t even know how to think about these numbers, except to imagine them spent on oh, education, agriculture, facing climate change, controlling police violence. Those issues pale before the terror that women might actually show signs of aging …

Only last week the Duchess of Cambridge, a mother to two infant children, whose husband has just started a stressful new job, was publicly rebuked by celebrity crimper Nicky Clarke for allowing a few grey hairs to appear in her hitherto lustrous brunette mane. “Kate is such a style icon that even a few strands of grey would be a disaster,” he commented, rather ungallantly. …

Professor Nichola Rumsey, co-director of the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, says society places enormous pressure on women to conform to youthful ideals. “I’m in my late 50s and feel tremendous pressure to cover the grey,” she admits. “You need to have huge self-confidence to stand up to that and deflect it and know that you are still good at your job and will be loved by your family if you don’t fit a certain youthful stereotype.”

This fits my own experience; going gray definitely changed how people react to me (though because I have always been a fat woman, it didn’t take away my experience of being a sex symbol). I also have very clear memories of a friend being upset a couple of decades ago when her therapist dyed the gray out of her hair, explaining “It’s the only way I can get men to take me seriously as a possible romantic partner.”

***

On the romantic partner front, however, Marie Lodi at Jezebel has good news, though I can’t say it surprises me …

A new study, published in the latest issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, shows that nearly six in 10 women over the age of 60 and in committed relationships are actively boning down. “People assume as women get older, they automatically become sexually inactive and sex is not as important to them, which isn’t necessarily the case,” Dr. Holly Thomas, author of the study, told Health Day.

More than 2,100 U.S. women between the ages of 28 to 84 were asked a series of questions pertaining to physical and mental health, medical problems, use of medication, relationship factors, sexual activity and sexual satisfaction. A majority of the women surveyed were in their 50s and 60s. The results showed that women in their 60s and 70s experienced sexual satisfaction comparable to women in their 30s and 40s.

Lodi doesn’t say anything (and neither did the study designers) about whether or not these women have gray hair. Clearly, we need a follow-up, including:

  • Do gray-haired women have better or worse sex lives than women who dye their hair? How about women whose hair naturally isn’t gray? (I’ll provide another piece of anecdotal experience; my sexual pleasure seems to be completely unchanged despite my gray hair.)
  • Do women who dye their head hair dye their pubic hair? Does that choice affect their sex lives?
  • Finally, gray head hair changes texture and quality (because it is caused by the death of the cells that color your hair naturally). Mine has gotten curlier and springier; many people’s hair gets coarser. Are these changes reflected in pubic hair?

Inquiring minds want to know.