I'M AS SHOCKED as anyone by this, but apparently Botox and other cosmetic procedures designed to "refresh" the face are now a liability in Hollywood. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that many well-known actresses are possessed of such an improbable age-to-smooth-skin ratio that television studios are actually looking to other countries, such as Britain and Canada, when casting for roles that don't necessarily require a 16-year-old look. With the advent of high-definition television, the scars that result from cosmetic surgery can be distractingly noticeable. There's also the matter of not being able to register surprise or many other emotions when your facial muscles have been Botoxed into a slab of granite.
It's hard to talk about the Botox craze without descending into empty cliches about the tyranny of a youth-obsessed culture. I'll admit that there's something a little medieval about injecting "botulinum toxin" into our faces because we live in a world where anyone older than 35 is considered medieval. But I also believe in accepting life on life's terms. So if yours involves equating wrinkles with inoperable tumors -- and you happen to have a lot of disposable cash -- one way to be a responsible citizen is to erase the damage by using a syringe.
I've never had Botox myself, though a facialist once told me that, if I continued my habit of raising my eyebrows in wry amusement, I'd "have no choice" but to submit to the needle. Obviously this was alarming, not only because my career is pretty much based on raising my eyebrows in amusement but because I've always secretly looked forward to getting wrinkles. Not serious wrinkles, mind you. I'm talking more about the kind that make me seem mature without looking old, the kind that suggest I don't yet need a life insurance policy but still discourage people from patting me on the head and saying things like "good for you, at your age!" I want wrinkles-in-training, an at-a-glance indicator that I remember Pac-Man and the Anita Hill hearings but not Watergate and Pong.
My big problem with Botox and other anti-aging procedures is not that they're shallow, or that their corollary is that too many of the moms on TV are played by actresses already so young you'd think every kid on a sitcom was the result of a teen pregnancy. It's that all of it has succeeded in extending the self-consciousness of youth into middle age, effectively undermining our ability to come to terms with our looks and concentrate on more pressing matters (for instance, foreign policy or, barring that, our lower backs). Because we're so versed in what a drag it is getting old, we seem to have developed a collective amnesia about the chaos, humiliations and downright stupidity that comes with being young.
Sure, our faces might look great when we're 25, but what about the entry-level jobs, the revolving roommates, the relationships founded entirely upon takeout Indian food and mediocre sex? (These are all hypotheticals, honest.) Though you wouldn't know it from watching "Friends," being in your 20s isn't all it's cracked up to be. As nice as it is to have your whole life ahead of you, it's somewhat less nice to be broke, condescended to and confused about everything from career choices to personal style.
Maybe I was dopier than most (though judging from some of my roommates, I think not), but I spent much of my 20s changing my persona approximately every six months. I'd go from corporate drone to starving artist, hipster to hippie, demure schoolgirl to strident, sarcastic loudmouth. It was exhausting and pathetic. You couldn't pay me to go through it again.
I realize that the idea behind getting Botox is to preserve our original selves, but anyone who's honest about the whole enterprise knows that the altered face is less "preserved" than it is brand new.
And that's why there's something so drearily adolescent about the whole thing. Just when many of us are finally starting to know ourselves as adults, we're expected to start shape shifting again. Like the teenager who walks into a vintage clothing store and suddenly decides to trade all her Gap clothes for Betty Boop dresses (again, a hypothetical), we get pushed by the easy availability of this youth-preserving technology to second-guess ourselves and spend time and money deciding what we should look like.
At 16, that's healthy (if cringe-inducing later on.) At 40, it's a sacrifice of our God-given right to let nature take its course so we can get on to more interesting things. Even if we're ready to look our age, it's pretty clear that, in a lot of walks of life, we're not allowed to.
As for my coveted wrinkles-in-training, an unfortunate brush recently with a magnifying mirror suggested they're already here. So if I turn up playing someone's grandma on "Desperate Housewives," don't say I didn't warn you.