The Eyebrow-Raising Truth
I was sitting in a chic Manhattan restaurant enjoying a bottle of wine with my boyfriend and another couple when the conversation turned to Botox. After a heavy dose of ridicule was heaped on women who "go in for that sort of thing," the other woman, Nina, looked around the table and, with a mischievous glint, asked, "Who here can’t raise her eyebrows?" As the three of them wriggled their brows, I tried to do the same — but frankly, I had no reason to be optimistic. My boyfriend took one look and was shocked. "You get Botox?" (He is an ex-boyfriend now, though my penchant for injectables had nothing to do with it. We won’t even mention Nina.)
It is curious that at a time when people spill every unsavory detail about their sex lives on television and when fessing up to a stint in rehab is becoming de rigueur, so many women remain deeply embarrassed and secretive when it comes to talking about relatively harmless beauty treatments. And yet, despite the rapidly increasing popularity of new procedures, this conspiracy of silence shows every sign of enduring. "There’s a tremendous taboo against appearing too vain," says LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, a psychologist based in Florida. "Combine that with the emphasis our society places on self-acceptance, and women don’t want to own up." Instead, she says, we often feel "shame and fear of being taken for a lightweight." In a culture that puts a great premium on youthful beauty, we are somehow not supposed to care too much about it.
Unlike the more extensive plastic surgery of the past, which required a couple of weeks of recovery time — during which women basically disappeared — it is now possible to zip out at lunch for a quick pick-me-up and then head back to the office. In 2007 alone, 4.3 million women got Botox, and more than a million others tried a different injectable or a chemical peel. With no downtime for healing, we’re left with the question of how to explain the bruises to coworkers, friends, and spouses. Honesty, it seems, is rarely an option. Pat Wexler, MD, a top New York City dermatologist with a large celebrity clientele, marvels at the stories some of her patients tell. "Their children hit them in the face with a toy; they banged into the kitchen cabinet; they bumped their face into the SUV. One woman I know let someone believe that her boyfriend hit her rather than admit she got a cosmetic procedure. I try to tell people to be brave and open, but there’s a confidence factor. Women are afraid of being ridiculed," Wexler says. Fear of being trivialized, she points out, is a large part of that. As we accomplish more and stay longer in the workforce, the last thing we want is to give people reason not to take us seriously. Think of all the female politicians who have had to endure endless scrutiny of their hairstyles and wardrobe choices. It doesn’t take a think tank to know that Nancy Pelosi would rather have people debating her view on NAFTA than what she might have done in the dermatologist’s office.
In one crucial way, treatments that target wrinkles and sagging skin are different from, say, a nose job or breast implants. "If you come out and say, ‘I’m having Botox or Restylane,’ people start to think about your age," says Jacque Lynn Foltyn, PhD, associate professor of sociology at National University in La Jolla, California, and author of the doctoral study "The Importance of Being Beautiful." "It brings up a larger issue of mortality, the realization that one is growing older and the bloom will disappear. That can be difficult to accept gracefully, and it’s not something women want to draw attention to. There’s a fear of not being loved, admired, or even hired. But as long as women lie about these things, they will continue to perpetuate the system."