"I'd Never Get Botox" and Other Beauty Lies

Ask us anything — except what we do at the dermatologist’s. Here’s why we fib about our faces.

By Emily Listfield
(Photo: Keate)

Lying to Ourselves?

For a generation that has always felt somehow uniquely exempt from the aging process, seeing a reminder of it in the mirror every day can be particularly daunting, leading some to practice a form of self-delusion. "Admitting even to themselves how much they are having done reminds women they are getting older," says Fredric Brandt, MD, a dermatologist with practices in Miami and New York, and one of the nation’s experts on fillers. "Instead, they prefer to fool themselves. Women will come in and say, ‘I don’t really need much, do I?’ They want me to agree, no matter what I actually end up doing." Foltyn, too, has seen women cling to an unrealistic self-image. "Having work done and denying it is a way of denying death," she says.

Hollywood, where youth reigns supreme, certainly isn’t helping to make the case for honesty. Although there are exceptions, such as Vanessa Williams, who recently told MORE she uses Botox, and Virginia Madsen, who is a spokeswoman for Allergan’s Juvederm and Botox campaign, the vast majority of celebrities continue to deny getting any cosmetic procedures despite all the evidence — and lack of facial movement — to the contrary. Stars well into their 70s with preternaturally wrinkle-free faces insist that they simply have good genes. "These celebrities are raising the ante for everyone else," Foltyn says. "They’re reinforcing the idea that beauty is supposed to be effortless and that it’s better not to tell if you’ve had work done because it will date you, make you sound inauthentic and desperate."

The idea that natural is always better is deeply rooted in our society. Risi-Leanne Baranja, editor-in-chief of the beauty review Web site palacinka.com, says, "Whether it’s blond hair or plump lips, if you were born with certain attributes, you are considered a bit superior."

"Everyone wants to feel they were born perfect," Brandt says. Admitting that your slim hips have been helped along by lipo or that your face is smooth thanks to injectables rather than genetic destiny diminishes the advantage.

Sharon Schoenberg, 42, a public relations executive in New York City, has a don’t ask, don’t tell policy about getting Botox. "I think that if you are in your 40s and want to look good, more power to you. To me, it’s like covering my gray," she says. "Still, I guess I want people to think I look good without having to work at it. There’s a certain competitiveness, especially with my single friends. In a way, I’m saying, ‘I’m a mom, I’m running a business, and I can still look as good as you, even though my plate is full.’" Schoenberg doesn’t tell her sisters either: "They would think I was completely frivolous."

One of the more depressing aspects of this silent competition is that it belies the notion of female solidarity. "It’s a way of saying, ‘My beauty is ageless and better than yours,’" Foltyn says. "It’s like women who compete over weight and claim they don’t diet."

The Consequences of Coming Clean

Lynn Schnurnberger, coauthor of the novel The Botox Diaries, readily shares the details of her injections with other women, though she is often surprised by their reaction. "I was at a lunch recently, and when I told the other women that I used injectables, their forks dropped, even though a few of them were clearly doing the same thing," she says.

Linda Franklin, author of 12 Best Kept Beauty Secrets of the Real Cougar Woman, also practices full beauty disclosure. "Some women feel that by sharing, they will lose their edge. They think, if I can look better than the next gal when I walk into a room, that makes me feel great, and I’m not about to expose my secrets," Franklin says. "But I tell my friends everything I have done, including Botox, and they love it. Women are more responsive when you admit your flaws."

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