Today Ivy asked me what Botox is. She’s eight. She’d found a humorous card on my bookshelf that depicts a 1950s mother and daughter with the caption ‘You’re never too young for Botox!’. She wanted to know (a) what is Botox and (b) should she be having it?
I am faced with a conundrum. Do I explain irony or Botox? To understand the ironic nature of the card’s declaration she needs to understand the larger political and social implications of mass consumerism and anti-ageing treatments. She’s only just got over her fascination with the Disney film Frozen. Hang on, was that film metaphorically preparing young girls for the faces of women in their future: Frozen?
The whole Botox story is hard to tell. I know she’s smart but the story of why women hate themselves is a bit bleak. How do you tell your little girl she’s perfect as she is and then tell her how we women butcher ourselves in the name of ‘beauty’? Do I also have to tell her about boob jobs and labioplasty? Nose jobs? Forehead reductions? Eye-lid lifts? Liposuction?
Self-loathing is a slippery slope to self-mutilation. No wonder so many young girls self-harm. Although when you pay a doctor to do it I don’t think they call it self-harm, I think it’s called self-improvement. All roads lead back to Botox. The gateway drug to plastic surgery. Explaining Botox to a child is complex because its very existence carries with it a whole lot of negative associations about ageing that I don’t really want to deliver to someone who’s just embarked on the ageing process. Sure, I’m happy to kill Santa and snuff out the tooth fairy, but I’m not ready to tell my little girl the truth about what we think about old people. That it makes clever women disappear. That we think wrinkly skin is repulsive.
So I tell her that Botox is a dance step. ‘Like the Nutbush. Except when you do the Botox it’s a lot stiller because nothing moves.’ She’s a clever kid and she knows when I’m bullshitting. She rolls her eyes and says, ‘Mum, tell me’. God, this is more confronting than the sex talk. ‘Botox is something mainly women use because they don’t like wrinkles.’ This seems like a more age-appropriate response than telling her it’s a paralysing nerve toxin used to render foreheads blank.
I hope she hasn’t picked up on the ‘mainly women’ part of my statement because I’m not quite ready for a Sunday morning discussion about patriarchy, the beauty myth and the consequent oppression of women through cosmetic means. I mean, what is the right age to introduce your daughter to feminist analysis? Ivy is naturally curious. ‘Are wrinkles bad?’ I say, ‘No’. So she says, ‘Then why do you need Botox?’ I say, ‘You don’t actually need it. People just get it because they don’t like the way their face looks.’
I’m not into Botox and I wish there were more of a conversation around it – but then I’m the first to admit I’m a hypocrite. Sure, I don’t do Botox or pump my face with ‘fillers’, but I do things to alter the way I look all the time. I wear makeup. I dye my hair. I get a spray tan. I wax. I’ve had fake nails. (But I couldn’t stand them because my long nails stopped me depressing the button on the loo and I had to flush by poking it down with a pencil.)
My friends who use Botox say it’s a choice. I guess it is. For them.
But what is the dominant narrative created by our choices? And what informs our choice in the first place? If my daughter’s choices are informed by a reality created by the choices of my generation, then has she really made a choice? In our Botoxed future is there a place for the wrinkled woman? Or will she just disappear in a whimper of skin?
When I saw Patti Smith at Bluesfest I found myself in tears. I couldn’t work out why; then it occurred to me how strange it was to see an older woman who has maintained her currency. A woman – without makeup, with grey hair, no fake tits, no Botox – with loads of relevance and currency, proudly and defiantly declaring old age.
I have drawn a line in the sand and when it comes to cosmetic intervention I have decided to accept the lines on my face. Or at least only cover them with makeup. Or a beard. Or perhaps a late-life conversion to Islam so I can hide those forehead creases and smile lines with a cheeky little burqa. Until then I guess You’re Never Too Young For Irony. But beware, it does crinkle your forehead.