The other day, I was watching the actress Holly Hunter in a gritty TV series, Saving Grace, in which she plays a hard-living cop who sleeps with too many men, and I suddenly realized that she’s older than I am.
‘Good lord,’ I thought.
How is that possible? She’s 55; I’m in my late 40s. But look at her jumping in and out of her skinny jeans all devil-may-care, with not a single blemish on her body. Has anti-aging science gotten so good that even an actress who’s supposed to appear life-ravaged can look 20 years younger than me?
Meanwhile, I’m walking around feeling about as alluring to the opposite sex as a pile of laundry. Yes, I need to go on a diet’I know that, and not a word out of anyone. But still, what if I combined a diet with something’extra?
Trying Botox for the first time
This is how I wound up in the north Toronto offices of a very tall plastic surgeon named Dr. Sean Rice, who was offering free introductory treatments with Botox. (Treatment is the wrong word, of course, since we’re not talking about any underlying illness beyond midlife crisis‘although, of course, Botox does have medical applications, including treatment of chronic migraine, neck pain and crossed eyes. Some use it to control extreme underarm sweating; in fact, Rice himself gets Botox from time to time for sweating.)
In my case, it was more about dipping my toe into an invasive beauty treatment. True, Botox is a neurotoxin that could theoretically paralyze and kill me. But I can never resist anything free. And at any rate, neurotoxicity hasn’t been an issue in clinical settings, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The doses used for medical and clinical purposes are extremely miniscule, and diluted in saline. Here’s what I don’t risk: walking out with lips inflated to dinghy size, or eyes so artificially widened people think I’m on drugs. Botox isn’t a filler, nor is it cosmetic surgery.
Never having visited a plastic surgeon before, I found myself trying to spiff up for Dr. Rice. Like those people who clean up the house before the maid comes, I put on extra makeup and went to have my nails done, as if I could somehow offset his appraising eye.
He was, it turned out, very practised at gazing impartially at clients. You might never have even known I was in the room.
The most popular areas for Botox
‘Where should I have it done?’ I asked uncertainly.
‘Well, what area bothers you the most?’ he prodded. The most popular areas for Botox are between the eyebrows (the two vertical lines called ‘the elevens‘), horizontal lines on the forehead, ‘bunny nose’ wrinkles (at the top of your nose on both sides), and laugh lines at the outer corners of your eyes. The cost varies depending on how much Botox is needed, but if you do all these places, you might pay around $500.
I didn’t really know what bothered me the most’probably the wattle that has lately appeared beneath my chin, which unfortunately is beyond Botox’s power to salvage. So we settled on five units injected along the mid-forehead. That would give me a roundabout sense of how Botox worked, by temporarily erasing a few forehead wrinkles.
He pricked me with a tiny needle while I lay in a dentist-style chair with my eyes closed. It felt like midge bites. While he worked, Rice explained that Botox acts as a ‘competitive inhibitor.’ Usually, chemical signals travel down nerves to tell muscles to contract. Botox prevents the signal from getting through. After three or four months, the nerve reroutes itself around the blockage point, which is why most people need to receive three injections per year.
What to avoid after a Botox injection
‘For the next few hours, don’t go to the gym, and don’t rub your face or lie on your stomach,’ Rice advised. Apparently, you just want the toxin to spread evenly into the tissue. If you lie face-down, it might make its way down to your ears or something.
Also, he said, expect anywhere between four days and two weeks before the toxin kicks in. (In other words, if you want to strip off years in this way for your high-school reunion, plan ahead.) I might be able to tell when it ‘hits,’ Rice explained, because I could develop a headache for a day or so, and again when it’s wearing off.
The results of Botox
Off I went, curious to see what would happen. On Day 3, my forehead felt the way my jaw does after a trip to the dentist, only in reverse: beginning to freeze rather than to thaw. When I scrunched up my face in the mirror, it seemed harder to frown. Doubting myself, I tried it out on my teenage daughter, who said, ‘Stop making that face, it’s creeping me out.’
On Day 5, my husband asked if my forehead had been stung by a bee. ‘It’s kind of shiny and swollen.’ I wondered if that would be the extent. Holly Hunter gets to be a gorgeous, if life-ravaged, woman, and I look like I’ve been attacked by insects. Thankfully, the swelling dissipated after a couple of days.
On Day 7, I worried that my left eye was drooping‘according to Rice, an occasional, temporary side effect of Botox. Changing one’s face, even in very subtle ways, can be surprisingly disorienting. When I raised both eyebrows in, say, a look of surprise, I felt resistance from the muscles, yet my eyebrows looked’higher up or more angular, somehow. The muscle paralysis was yanking them northward.
My family began to get a huge kick out of trying to provoke a facial reaction from me, slapping their knees with laughter when I could only stare blankly.
But here’s the thing: My friends, who didn’t know about the Botox, started complimenting me. ‘You’re looking particularly well this evening, Patricia,’ one said. (For Downton Abbey fans like myself, it was the equivalent of Sir Anthony’s line to Lady Edith in an early Season 3 episode: ‘Have you done something jolly with your hair?’) Another friend asked: ‘Did you get some sun?’ It was December, and I hadn’t been south. A third wondered if I’d been working out more. A university professor I’d had years ago’I’m not making this up’actually hit on me.
It’s hard to know what to make of all this, except that, clearly, people react positively when you gaze at them as expressionlessly as a cat. There’s probably a secret to success hidden in that discovery. I’ll see what happens when my scowl comes back.