What does it mean to botox your face?

Date

Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

View more articles from Alecia Simmonds

<i></i>

Photo: George Marks

I'm sitting in the beige surrounds of my local beauty salon. Tight-faced beauticians flutter past leaving trails of musk-scented air and the tinkle of a synthetic waterscape pipes out from hidden speakers. A woman approaches.

"Fill in this card before your massage, Miss Simmonds. It's just to identify any conditions or problems we might be able to help you with."

I glance down at a page busy with boxes and ailments.

Journalist Jessica Rowe.

Journalist Jessica Rowe. Photo: Lannon Harley

Dermatological conditions:

  •  Acne
  •  Dry Skin
  •  Skin cancers
  •  Ageing

My eyes freeze. My dutiful ticking and crossing ceases.

"I'm sorry, how is ageing a dermatological condition?" I ask, my voice bristling with indignation. Before the poor startled woman can respond I put a heavy angry line across the page and write "No problems! My skin is quite perfect." My masseuse later tells me I'm carrying tension.

If ageing were anything other than the most human of conditions, then I suppose you could say I'm afflicted. A thought-line the length of a finger nail has formed a splendid sluice between my eyebrows, and when I smile my eyes crease into a hundred happy rivulets. I have a face filled with the days of my 35 years.

Of all the wrinkles on my face, it's my thought-line that is most beloved. It's a proud testament to a life spent in study – a physical marker of intellectual growth and wisdom. It communicates to others the experiential authority of my opinions, and it allows me to question without saying a word.

Suffice to say I have a very different relationship with my face to that of Jessica Rowe. Recently Rowe wrote that she chooses to Botox away the lines on her face simply because it boosts her self-esteem. And because she said the c-word ("choice") then feminists should celebrate the power she exerts in choosing to do this of her own free will.

My reaction, of course, was to furrow my fabulous thought-line. If Rowe had said that she does it because she's a news presenter and Botox would guarantee her another 10 years of work then I would understand. You can't fight every battle. But to suggest that her choice exists in divine isolation from any pressure to ward off the social invisibility that befalls older women; to suggest that she is miraculously quarantined from a world that equates youth with beauty and that sexually disqualifies women past the age of 50 does not make good sense.

Ageism and sexism have an incestuously close relationship whose mutant offspring are called Botox and Plastic Surgery.

There is nothing natural or inevitable about women wanting to cut up their faces or inject them with silicon. Until around the 1920s, the feminine ideal was decidedly matronly. Victorian models of femininity were based on moral virtue or character, which meant that there was nothing wrong with ageing. In fact, beauty was equated with a maternal ideal.

Maturity was scorned at the precise historical moment that Western women gained the vote, started to work, began to live independently of men and entered the public sphere. I don't put this down to mere coincidence. Nor is it a strange quirk of history that an infantile model of femininity emerged at the same time as a mass market. Victorian women were deeply suspicious of make-up, or 'paint' as they liked to call it. To make money, the beauty industry (today worth $170 billion a year globally) had to convince women that beauty could only be bought, and this meant creating anxieties through promoting an unattainable ideal of sexualised adolescence. The companies who created the fears were also the ones who offered the remedies at a very high price.

At the very moment that women were promised freedom, they became subject to a crushing regime of external regulation and bodily "improvement". At the very moment when maturity should have given women political power and social authority, they were mocked or made invisible because of their deviation from a childish ideal. At the very moment when they should have turned their minds to matters of state, they internalised these new prescriptions and turned their minds to matters of moisturising. The psychological effect upon women of youthful femininity was, and is, catastrophic.

The question that feminists should ask is: "What does it mean to botox your face?" I think it means that you are wealthy enough to pay a lot of money to erase all the marks of character, experience and wisdom from you face.

It means that women's faces remain frozen in time, while male faces are loved and valued for how they speak their authority. It means, in Susan Sontag's words, that a "double standard of ageing" exists in our society where old women are sent off to the sexual gulags. Botox is just an attempt to delay the sentence. And it means that women are taught to get their sense of self-worth through male standards of sexual attractiveness that are tied to infantility.

Should feminists applaud Rowe because she says it's her choice? I say fifty shades of no way. You could begin by saying that just because the act of choosing can be called feminist, it doesn't mean that the choices you make are feminist. But I would go further. Choice is the language of capitalism and individualism and as such sits uncomfortably with a feminism based on collective rights. The choice between being a sexual object or being put on the shelf has NOTHING to do with feminism and a lot to do with patriarchy. Choosing between a 19th-century feminine ideal based on women as mothers and a 20th-century ideal based on women as nymphettes is also not a feminist act.

The c-word is starting to become a little nauseating of late. Why is it that every "choice" that women make – from pole-dancing to botox – also aligns with patriarchal views on women's value? It's time we went back to analysing the power structures and social conditions under which people make decisions and worked out how to dismantle them for the benefit of women and society as a whole.

 

39 comments

  • Fantastic article. Thought provoking, nuanced, excellent arguments. I'm going to read it more than once.

    Commenter
    Helena Handbasket
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    March 18, 2013, 7:04AM
    • I applaud Jessica Rowe for her honesty, woman all over the world are being told over and over again the reason a celebrity who is 50 looks 30 is because they "drink lots of water". Consistently being lied too and having young men think that the celebrity 50 yr old is a reality I think is more harmful then the honesty of the money, surgery and effort that really goes into looking that way.

      Commenter
      Steph
      Date and time
      March 18, 2013, 7:38AM
      • “The choice between being a sexual object or being put on the shelf has NOTHING to do with feminism and a lot to do with patriarchy.”
        ---------------------------

        Sometimes, the reason for having botox or plastic surgery to ‘rejuvenate’ one’s appearance has NOTHING to do with feminism OR patriarchy, and everything to do with the fear some people experience regarding the associations of ageing and one’s vitality.

        Ageing not only implies changes to your face (e.g. wrinkles), it also implies physiological and chemical changes within your body (e.g. hormonal, metabolical, etc). This means that you won’t have the same energy you had when younger and that you won’t be able to enjoy the foods which you once devoured without any side effects. In other words, you can’t control the changes your body undergoes due to the natural course of nature. And for some, not having control over your body is a source of fear.

        Granted, nobody can fool Mother Nature, nevertheless, from a psychological perspective, botox and plastic surgery offers the possibility to have at least some control over your own body.

        Commenter
        MainSail
        Date and time
        March 18, 2013, 7:52AM
        • well Alecia,
          When you are over 50 (not 35, at which age we all look fabulous) and you look in a mirror and see sagging jowls and bags under your eyes and that cute thought line just makes you look angry all the time you will begin to understand why some of us try whatever is available to avoid shuddering every time we look in a mirror. It's not about sex Alicia its about feeling as if we are not falling apart!

          Commenter
          55 plus
          Date and time
          March 18, 2013, 8:14AM
          • @55 plus, Alecia's point is not that you shouldn't get Botox, but that the reason you are driven to get it - the reason you shudder when you look in the mirror - is because your lines indicate decay, and you've been socialised by a double-standard society to believe this. A man's age, on the other hand, denotes wisdom, and we are somehow still able to see them as attractive and valuable despite the march of time. Alecia's beautifully-made point is that when women do get Botox (or plastic surgery) they shouldn't ascribe it to feminist "choice" (as Rowe did), because in reality it is a reaction to this society in which women themselves have internalised the value of youth and beauty over age and wisdom.

            I did feel some admiration for Rowe when I read her article, but she does women a terrible disservice by claiming her Botox use is a personal choice rather than a response to the fact she works in an industry where older women - or women who just look old - are conspicuous by their absence.

            Commenter
            Cam
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            March 18, 2013, 8:59AM
          • 55 plus, please don't shudder when you look in the mirror - shudder when you see the relentless barrage of crap squarely aimed at brainwashing women into thinking that anyone who is not a 16 year old, size 4 blonde is 'ugly' and 'unworthy'. Having observed my Asian family age while keeping in touch with a culture that place a high value on the wisdom of the elderly, I can promise you that shudder is largely the product of cultural conditioning - I don't think my grandmother or her sisters ever used anything more than a bit of cold cream to wipe off their lipstick in the years that they spent on this planet. Looking at themselves and shuddering while they tidied up in the mornings would simply never have occurred to them.
            I'm hoping to keep up that gold standard as I roll into my 50s myself. :)

            Commenter
            andilee
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            March 18, 2013, 1:24PM
        • Thanks for this. It clarifies the feelings I had when I read Jessica Rowe's article. Although I have good friends who use Botox I am unable to talk to them about exactly these issues without the bandying about of the "c word"!

          Commenter
          SarahB
          Date and time
          March 18, 2013, 8:14AM
          • Have you ever had braces for your teeth? Or would your choice be to go through life with with a car crash happening in your mouth. Most people given the choice, for cosmetic reasons alone, would choose braces. And this choice is usually made by parents on behalf of their children and usually in direct opposition to their child's wishes. The child usually endures the pulling of teeth and painful wearing of braces ... for years. Yet this practice is universally accepted, In fact, if you don't have your child's teeth corrected you run the risk of being regarded as a neglectful and cheap parent.
            I see no difference between this and botox. It's a choice. You don't have to agree with it and quite frankly, it's none of your business. Straighten your teeth or straighten your forehead. I applaud Jessica Rowe's decision. I think she looks lovely.

            Commenter
            joolz
            Location
            sydney
            Date and time
            March 18, 2013, 8:48AM
            • It's unfortunate to have skew teeth, and the treatment, once it's over, is over. Ageing is different: everyone does it, and moreover, it is natural. The temporary halting of ageing through treatments like Botox is ongoing. When does one stop the shots and allow the lines to finally take over - when you're dead?

              Of course Rowe is allowed to have Botox, it's just a pity she hasn't acknowledged that we live in a society that compels us to feel bad about our lines. And you have compounded this medicalisation of ageing by comparing this inevitable, natural process to having skew teeth.

              Commenter
              Cam
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              March 18, 2013, 9:09AM
            • @joolz - There is a big difference between botox and braces. Alecia states very clearly that in her view the use of botox is an ageism/sexism issue, a view that I agree with. Having straight teeth is an aesthetic ideal, but not based on ageism or sexism.

              Commenter
              mk.mac
              Date and time
              March 18, 2013, 9:10AM

          More comments

          Comments are now closed