Monday, November 22, 2021

The Ubiquity of Botox

It’s not just Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer who is sporting that Botox look. Dead faced, having a face that has not moved in a decade, thinking that she looks young and vital, Whitmer is as good an argument against Botox as we have seen.

Unfortunately, she is not alone in the category. How many women over forty, in particular, have had so much work done that they look like plastic dolls. And, do not imagine that the work stops at the neck. Other body parts are similarly plasticized-- and they all feel great about it. If you don’t believe me, ask one of them.

And, let’s keep in mind, while Botox is not quite as ubiquitous among men, certain males look like they have had work done, as the saying goes. Consider the appearances of Joe Biden and John Kerry. Both of them must have spent a fortune to have that worked-over look. I have not seen this reported, but those men are not showing their real faces.

Now, Amanda Hess takes the measure of the fad in the New York Times. The bottom line-- enhanced or not-- tells us that so many women have now had Botox treatment that the Times and other publications feel obliged to rationalize the procedure. Your face might look like a plastic doll, but everyone else is doing it, so, why not.

Hess explains the trade-off. And it is important that she sees it as a trade-off. You gain a semblance of eternal youth, as the price of never moving your face:

Botulinum toxin is a poison that by some macabre coincidence both causes botulism and cures wrinkles. When injected at low doses into a crinkled forehead, it blocks nerve signals to muscles and smooths the skin atop them. (It also has medical applications, including for treating migraines.) Though there are several competing brands, Botox is the Kleenex of the category. It presents the kind of bargain one might strike with a nefarious sea witch: She will grant you eternal youth, but at the price of being able to move your face.

Of course, the look is ultimately hideous, but this does not deter those women who are seeking eternal youth. And, the ambient culture has followed suit:

A Botoxed face used to strike viewers as an uncanny spectacle, but uncanny spectacles fuel reality television and internet culture, and thanks to those ascendant forms, Botox has accumulated a gloss of campy pageantry, helping disarm cultural fears around its use. Botox once suggested vanity, delusion and self-consciousness, but now it has fresh associations: with confidence, resilience, even authenticity, as the idea of “having work done” has come to be seen as a legitimate form of work.

The treatment is so ubiquitous that we are inured to seeing false faces on female actresses. We no longer see facial expressions, and we are used to not seeing facial expressions:

Botox (along with a constellation of other anti-aging treatments, ranging from skin-sloughing peels to fillers to old-fashioned face-lifts) is now so ubiquitous that it has become increasingly difficult to recognize a realistically aging face onscreen. The rise of Botox has impacted not only how actors look, but how they seem to feel. In 2010, in New York magazine, Amanda Fortini described plastic surgery’s assault on naturalistic acting as nuanced interpretations have been supplanted by “stilted, stylized and masklike” presentations.

Is the Botoxed face merely a caricature of femininity? Is this what the Kardashians have brought us? It would be more than passing strange to think that five decades of feminism has brought us plasticized females.

The show, its many spinoffs, and the similarly Plasticine Kardashians universe have translated a Botoxed face into a clown-like sendup of femininity. On the internet, images of Housewives and Kardashians circulate as GIFs and screenshots, transforming into ironic avatars for our own feelings. Their faces, simultaneously melodramatic and numbed, reflect a strangely complex emotional truth, where the experiences of depression, anxiety, trauma and grief unfold amid an absurdist carnival of anesthetizing content and luxury products. It is simultaneously unnerving and ridiculous, like Kim Kardashian crying through the Botox. Now, figures like Kidman and Kelley have recast that jumble of feelings through a prestige lens.

In truth, feminism has told women to defer marriage and childbearing. It has taught them habits that have often made them divorcees. This means that older women are in active in the dating market, but they are competing against their sisters who are a dozen or so years younger. This causes a panic and the panic leads to Botox.

And naturally, Hess blames it on the internet, on Instagram and TicTok, neither of which I know anything about:

The internet has conscripted us into the construction and manipulation of our own images, so that the idea of wearing some kind of mask — whether through plastic surgery, Instagram filter, online avatar or cloak of irony — no longer reads as unnatural, but rather as broadly relatable. At the same time, social media has demystified plastic surgery procedures. 

Apparently, it’s all about the wrinkles. As for whether wrinkles, which used to manifest character, are stigmatized, I am far from certain. In truth, it’s something of a relief to encounter a woman who has a real face, and who is not pretending to be someone and something she is not:

It strikes me that wrinkles on women are not only stigmatized because they make them seem old, but because they make them look angry, sad, surprised, distressed — they make them look alive. Even as Botox has become a way station for women at risk of being catapulted from Hollywood, it presents as a vivid reminder of what has been lost. Female movie stars are no longer buried after a certain age; instead they are embalmed. The new Botox tagline is “Still you,” but it could be “Still here.”

All things considered, there is one point that Hess neglects to mention. The average human being uses facial expressions as a means of communication. When you speak to another person face to face, you respond to facial expressions, often by unconsciously mimicking them. This tells you something about his or her emotional state, whether he or she feels mad, bad, sad or glad.

When you have a dead face you cannot communicate emotion. Then you can complain that your interlocutor cannot express his feelings and you send him off for therapy.


Anonymous said...

Are women who have "work done" just stupid? Look at any Hollywood personality who's gone under the knife. How can anyone think that the result is an improvement? The best cosmetic surgery invariably looks like crap, leaving most women looking like a badly manufactured blow up doll.
And this result is among women who have the money to afford the very best doctors.

Consider Meg Ryan. Once an extremely cute woman with an attractive girl next door persona, who now looks like a monster and probably scares kids when they see her.

markedup2 said...

I don't see anything inherently wrong with looking young indefinitely. I'd love to live to 200 and look (and feel) 35 the entire time.

That said, we're not there, yet. I disagree that plastic surgery _always_ looks bad; but "usually" or "frequently" seem applicable.

My advice: Smile more. It creates wrinkles, but they are obviously happy wrinkles. Mom was right: Don't make ugly faces, it will stick that way. Make yourself beautiful one smile at a time.