I talk a tough game. I routinely leave my doors unlocked (smart, I know) and keep a funny story in my pocket about that time in my 20s when I chased two peeping toms down the street in my PJs, wielding a butcher knife.
My mantra is: I am not afraid, I am not afraid, I am not afraid — an ironic tune for someone with lifelong anxiety disorder. Or maybe not. If I can’t control my illogical fear of highways, crowds, and dentists, I can at least tell myself that when real danger shows up, I’m game.
This no-fear stance has proven especially strident on the subject of Botox. (I use “Botox” as shorthand for every filler women inject into their faces: Juvaderm, Restylane, all of it.)
I’ve waxed poetic on social media over celebrity do-overs from the subtle to the obvious to the unrecognizable.
Lubricated by chardonnay, I’ve asked my girlfriends to make a Botox Compact. “Let’s promise,” I’ve said dramatically, holding up a hand for emphasis the way evangelicals do when they feel the Holy Spirit coming on, “that we will never get Botox, ever.”
I’ve stewed righteously as one Facebook friend after another put up a photo betraying the tell-tale signs: the brightness of cheek, the fullness of mouth, the improbable arch of brow, all of it pinched at the corners — an overall mien landing somewhere between deranged cheerfulness and allergic reaction.
Their excursions into cosmetic dermatology aggrieved me. Botox not only signaled a horrifying insecurity for which I found it impossible to empathize, it also announced a woman’s willingness to compete at all costs. “I will do what’s necessary,” her newly bee-stung lips said, “for beauty, approval, money, and sex. If you want to stay in the game, you’d best keep up.”
COULDN’T SHE SEE THERE WAS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS? DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT IF NONE OF US DID IT, NONE OF US WOULD FEEL THE NEED TO DO IT?
Couldn’t she see there was strength in numbers? Didn’t she know that if none of us did it, none of us would feel the need to do it? We merely needed to band together and refuse. But no. These competitive bitches had to go ruin it for everyone.
Have I mentioned that I’m one of the most competitive people I know? Obviously there was a monumental case of projection going on here, but I was blind to it.
I even went so far as to post a photo of myself with no makeup and a ponytail, proudly proclaiming my allegiance to Mother Nature, feminism, and sisterhood. You know, the kind of sisterhood in which a woman calls other women bitches.
Then I turned 50. Like many of us in these days of aerobics and yoga and fresh produce, I had always looked younger than my age. When I told people I was 43, they often said I looked 30. At 47, I walked into a beer garden in Portland with a boyfriend five years my junior and his two 30-something friends, and I was the only one who got carded. Boy did I like recounting that tale.
But 47 is to 50 what 11 is to 14, three short years separated by a hormonal gulf that jettisons a female into a dark wood from which there is no return. On a body that I bore little love for, I’d afforded exception to my full lips, but now the top lip was slowly disappearing, leaving its lower twin to do all work. A tiny scar on my left jaw blossomed into a full-blown age spot, followed by another. I told myself, upon studying the growing lines around my mouth and eyes, that I was just tired, which was true. But tiredness wasn’t the problem.
SUDDENLY, THERE WERE THE BOTOX THOUGHTS. THEY CREPT IN FROM THE BACK CORNERS OF MY SKULL AS INEXORABLY AS THE CROW’S FEET GATHERING AT THE FRONT OF IT.
Suddenly, there were the Botox thoughts. They crept in from the back corners of my skull as inexorably as the crow’s feet gathering at the front of it. I could always laser that age spot away; after all, lasers weren’t invasive. I already used lip plumper in a tube, and what’s the difference between that and a tiny shot of collagen? I started buying expensive moisturizers (Oh why didn’t I begin moisturizing earlier?) and wondered whether I could allow myself one of those zappy electro-peels that fry off the top layer of skin and make you look sunburned for a week, revealing the virginal goodness below.
What pained me most was one deep, vertical worry line between my brows, the one I’d begun digitally retouching in every photo. The way it made me feel was the exact emotion that likely caused it in the first place. No cream or peel could save it. The only way out of that little monster was Botox.
Whoa. My pseudo-courageous resistance was based almost entirely on the fact that I hadn’t actually aged yet? Like a clueless teenager yelling about how stupid adults are and how she’s going to live so much more authentically when she grows up, my rebellion was fueled by mere ignorance?
“I might get Botox,” I told my five-years-junior boyfriend last month as we did our morning things in the bathroom.
“Do not get Botox,” he said. “You don’t need it. You get sexier every day.”
For now, I thought. The biochemical-optical illusion behind his lovely sentiment will also come to an end sooner or later.
I’ll be 53 soon. At my quarterly visits to the dermatologist for tiny patches of alopecia — “You’re getting injections for alopecia!” the voice chides. “That’s almost like Botox!” — I see the posters, the flyers, the women younger and older than me reading magazines with manicured hands and shiny, unwrinkled brows. I no longer judge them. I no longer feel separate from them. I understand why they’d prefer to hold on to all the beauty left to them, and how beauty stands for something even more precious — time.
Who doesn’t want more time, or even the illusion of more time, despite the fact that it involves cutting a Faustian deal that can never quite pan out? Who am I to judge the deals we each make with the hands we’ve been dealt?
I want a little more time. But I sit there in silence, telling myself: I am not afraid, I am not afraid, I am not afraid. I will not get Botox. Today.
Robin Rinaldi is a journalist and author of The Wild Oats Project: One Woman’s Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost.
For more about Rinaldi, go to robinrinaldi.com.