It cost a horrible amount of money. £405. It was what they call "Baby Botox". If the name was meant to alleviate concern that I’d leave the room corpse-stiff, then it worked. Just a pinch of Baby Botox, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing actually. Everything I’d panicked about pre-Botox – facial paralysis, not being able to show surprise, my friends turning on me because I looked like a Fox News Anchor – well, none of that happened. But what I hadn’t prepared myself for was The Botox Guilt.
Before the needles I’d gone through a period of self-love. I’d stopped wearing makeup, which surprisingly had done wonders for my self-confidence. I no longer looked at my face and only thought about correcting it. Instead I’d see my face in the morning and think, ‘That’s my face, it’s going to look like that all day, no point hating it’. It was only my mum and sister who derided my pallid face, or at least they were the only ones to do it to my pallid face. My sister even twice offered to pay for me to have my eyelashes dyed, thinking I was trying to save time, not my mental health.
By going back to makeup ground zero I learned that it wasn’t something I had to apply before I went to work or met friends at the pub. When I did start to wear bits of makeup again, my small bag of cosmetics became more about self-expression and self-love than routine and maintenance.
Now all of that is true, but at the same time another truth existed, an alternative fact if you’ll allow: I felt old. My toddler son has made sure I haven’t slept through the night in over two years and, at 34, I’m often, ridiculously, the oldest woman at work.
Knowing I could give up makeup made me think that trying Botox wasn’t necessarily a slippery slope to Amanda Holden. I booked an appointment, had a lovely chat with a lady who made me hold up a hand mirror and describe everything I liked about my face, before leaving with some bruising around my eye. A few days later the paralysis kicked in and by god it was wonderful. I looked a little less tired and my eyelids seemed to lift themselves out of my eyes. A couple of people said I looked well. There was no big transformation, no reveal. I felt I looked a bit more 'on it' at work and felt less judged for my eye bags in a 10am meeting.
Then came my dilemma: should I tell people? From the first casual compliment I was embarrassed, suddenly acutely aware that I was dabbling in something not readily available to everyone. Unlike wearing designer boots that scream their price tag, Botox felt duplicitous. I didn’t want to feel like I was getting one over the (few) other tired mums in the office, but if I went around announcing it, not only did I have to face people's Botox prejudice, of which there is a lot, but doesn’t screaming about Botox make the reason you get it pointless? I’m trying to achieve something close to effortless.
Just because the beauty industry has replaced the term ‘anti-ageing’ with ‘glowing’ doesn’t mean it's not still pointing us at the same end goal: baby bottoms for foreheads. Helen Mirren’s banning of the phrase ‘anti-ageing’ has given us another job on top of remaining youthful; we’re now meant to appear as if we’re cool with getting old, but still not actually look old. Women are expected to be above Botox and to look 27 or age like Helen Mirren.
I sense I’m judged at work for looking like a tired, haggard mum. Perhaps paranoia plays a small part but the stats speak too: women’s salaries plateau at age 39 while men’s continue to rise for another decade. In the UK only 5% of TV presenters are women over 50 and in films, female leads are still on average four-and-a-half years younger than their male counterparts. I see fewer and fewer older women in the workplace and can’t help but be aware how much more work is given to glossy younger women and older men. When I’m sat in a senior management meeting with mainly, and often exclusively, men, I can’t help but receive the message that a woman becomes less valuable as she gets older. Men, it appears, accumulate wisdom and respect.
I hate that I’ve bought into a patriarchal moulding that dictates women need to remain youthful to be relevant. Not only have I fallen for it, but also by purchasing Botox, I’m helping that culture thrive. The really disappointing thing is the reason I turned to Botox: ultimately to be respected and employed; it wasn’t really about looking better. As an individual I win while, overall, women lose out. I’m sure I’ve fucked it up for the sisterhood before, but it’s Botox that has made me feel the most unfeminist and unsisterly.
How many of us have joined this deceit? It’s quite possible that lots of women in my life have had Botox – I would never know; today's injections look very natural. If we collectively gave it up, its need would be far less, but instead we’re all secretly conspiring with the patriarchy. Maybe that’s what Amanda Holden has over me; her face divulges her truth. So here’s mine: I tried Botox once. I don’t know if I’ll do it again but, if I do, I’ll be honest about it, because I can’t bear the idea that some women are paying for a secret shame and conspiring with a ridiculous pact that women don’t age.