Growing up, we didn't talk about that kind of thing. It would have been considered scandalous. I was raised to believe that God had certain plans and expectations for me as a woman, and to err from that path would be sinful. But as I became worldlier and met others who had tried it, my curiosity grew. I found myself inexplicably drawn to its adherents, feeling queasy yet titillated as I heard their stories. Maybe it wasn't as unnatural and self-destructive as I'd long believed.
I'm talking, of course, about Botox. I admit it: I'm Bo-curious.
My first brush with a dealer came when I was in my early thirties and scheduled a mole check with a dermatologist, part of the annual care and upkeep that a marshmallow-shaded person like me needs to stay healthy. Call it payback for summer afternoons in the 1980s spent on a folding lounge chair on my back patio holding Human League's Dare or Split Enz's The Living Enz gatefold albums in my lap. I'd cover the albums in tin foil, to turbocharge the effect of the sun's rays on the baby oil I'd slathered on.
I thought this dermatologist would spot-check my spots and go on her lab-coated way. But she saw a more urgent matter at hand.
"You know you're a perfect candidate for Botox," she said, tapping a pen here until I was cross-eyed and could no longer read the name of the cosmeceutical printed along its side. "Those lines between your eyebrows would respond very well."
I LoL'd. Me? Botox? I was young. More than that, I was philosophically opposed to cosmetic procedures performed by medical professionals (though I clearly had no qualms when it came to procedures performed by barely credentialed "aestheticians.") I believed that vanity had no place in aging. It was a philosophy I'd arrived at in my dewy twenties after studying photos of just-plain-folks like Lauren Hutton and Sophia Loren, proof of how all women grow more beautiful with the passing years.
True, by my thirties, the sleeplessness that came from having two daughters under the age of five had etched new lines and shadows on my face. But not enough to turn to an elective medical procedure that involves shooting a toxin from old Bessy into my face. "No thanks," I said to Doc Botox, smug and sure of myself. I went home that night and recounted the story to my husband with glee. "Can you believe she asked me about Botox?" I said. "Who does she think I am?"
Fast forward ten years. Those little girls are teenagers and those faint vertical lines look like they've been drawn with a Sharpie. It looks like I'm using my face to show my support for an athlete whose jersey number is eleven. Who does Doc Botox think am I? The patient whose next visit will pay off her condo in Hawaii.
The truth is, I look and feel the age I am, which is closer to sixty than to thirty. I started wearing progressive lenses last spring, and now constantly do a slow nod to get the right part of the lens between my eye and the object on which I'm trying to focus. It makes me look like a languid bobblehead. There's a lone age spot on my right hand, a scout party sent to see if conditions are right for colonizing.
I try to convince myself that it is neither vain nor hypocritical to spend my lunch hour making my "maximum angry face" into my webcam so that the Botox web site can show me what I'd look like after treatment. After all, a Columbia University study pointed to a psychological benefit of Botox -- I mean, beyond the immediate gratification of looking in the mirror and thinking, "Hey there! I remember you from 1991!" Because Botox paralyzes the frown muscles, you experience a decrease in the strength of your emotional responses, which scientists say may trick your brain into thinking that you truly are happier. Now that's the kind of side effect a person would actually like to hear, when watching pharmaceutical ads that juxtapose scenes of wholesome families frolicking in a meadow against rapid-fire recitations of the three hundred ways the drug they're selling might also kill you.
Besides the few high profile actresses whose mugs have been frozen into the same expression for "joyous" and "despairing" and "Madame Tussaud model," I did stop mocking Botox right after my dermatologist mentioned it. A few years later I had lunch with a college friend who looked terrific, happy and well rested, which, with her full time job and four kids I was 99% sure she wasn't. "Botox," she confided over dessert. "And I'd do it again in a heartbeat." She's not anyone I'd consider vain. What's wrong with doing something that makes you feel happier? I don't judge my friends for making sweet love to a pint of Ben and Jerry's Americone Dream, or replaying that scene of Daniel Craig emerging from the surf in Casino Royale over and over. And over. And over.
I'm taking baby steps to satisfy my bo-curiosity. I'm thinking of making an appointment this fall to have Doc Botox laser away the sun damage on my neck and chest. If only the Duran Duran liner notes hadn't required so much study in direct sunlight, while wearing a spaghetti strap tank top.
And maybe, while I'm sitting in my paper gown and wondering, as usual, whether the office workers across the street have any sort of telescope or binocular setup, I'll grab a Botox brochure from the display stand and sneak it into my purse for further study when no one is watching.
Because even if curiosity killed the cat, I think it's worth investigating whether some cow toxin might revive it.