Belfast Telegraph

How natural beauty Jane forced Botox fans like Nicole to finally face facts

It's the treatment that revolutionised cosmetic surgery, but is it time we finally drew a line when it comes to Botox? Emily Hourican reports

Future generations will look back at the madness of injecting botulinum toxin, an acutely toxic substance, into the face in order to 'freeze' the muscles and temporarily reduce the appearance of frown lines and wrinkles, with the kind of curious scorn we reserve for the women of the Middle Ages who wore make-up containing lead and arsenic that poisoned and painfully killed many of them.

They will laugh at our Botox parties exactly as we now laugh at our mothers' Tupperware parties. 'How dated, how quaint'.

These future generations will be disapproving of the danger we were exposed to, but also, more woundingly, they will be scathing of results; 'all that effort and risk, to look... permanently surprised? Blank? Dismayed? Whatever was the point?'

Roughly 25 years after the cosmetic effect of botulinum toxin was first reviewed in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the Botox party is well and truly over.

For a while, back in the very early 2000s, it looked as if the gap between rich and poor had widened in a whole new and nasty way.

Once upon a time, the rich were at least, for all their money, unable to buy themselves the two things they craved: good looks and youth. And then, suddenly, that is exactly what they were able to buy, in whatever quantities they wanted.

As long as they had the cash, they could all become – and stay – a fresh-faced, lovely 36, while around them, the rest of us aged at the normal rate so that, instead of having the face you deserved at 50, suddenly you had the face you could afford.

But then two things happened. First, Botox, implants and fillers became available pretty cheaply to the masses. Suddenly it was no longer the rich, glamorous Hollywood beauties who were redrawing nature's blueprint, it was more likely to be your hairdresser or beauty therapist.

Anyone who wanted could have perfectly smooth foreheads and full, plump lips, along with their year-round spray tans and HD brows. This, naturally, had a rather dampening effect on the desirability of it all. Nothing that can be bought on the high street by the kind of people who inhabit most of our daily lives is ever going to be all that covetable.

Equally, those same hairdressers and beauty therapists became experts in what was available, meaning they could point out some star's new 'work' while blow-drying your hair or doing your nails, along with an accurate estimate of costs and recovery time. Not much mystique left there.

This was the era of going to dinner or a party, and texting friends afterwards to say 'did you see X? do you think she has ...'

The answer was usually 'yes!', followed by the bitchy but often-accurate conclusion that the 'work' actually, perversely, made poor X look older, in a timeless-but-charmless sort of way.

The other thing that happened was the harsh dawn of perspective. Ten or 15 years after Botox became mainstream, followed by nose jobs, lip jobs, boob jobs, liposuction, cheek implants and forehead lifts, the true price of these interventions could finally be assessed. And the assessment was not a happy one.

Stars who looked unfairly radiant through many of their advancing decades suddenly became overdone, grotesque, cautionary tales.

And although many would rather die than admit that anything other than careful diet, exercise, good genes and sunscreen has anything to do with their increasingly startling appearance, a brave few have gradually had the courage to come out and say, yes, they had work, and yes, they regret it.

"I've had a little plastic surgery. I've had a little lipo. I've had a little Botox," Jamie Lee Curtis admitted a few years ago. "And you know what? None of it works. None of it. Nobody tells you if you take fat from your body in one place, it comes back in another place."

She's not the only one – Courtney Love has spoken about her regret over the work done to her mouth: "I just want the mouth God gave me back. It was perfectly cute, and I had nice big lips."

Both Emmanuel Beart and Leslie Ash too learned the bitter lesson of tampering with the natural order.

Even Nicole Kidman finally admitted to Botox. "I did try Botox, unfortunately, but I got out of it and now I can finally move my face again," she said a couple of years ago.

At the same time, film directors, including Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann, began complaining about the lack of expression range among actresses, because of all the face freezing. "Their faces can't really move properly," complained Luhrmann, while Scorsese said so many actresses have had Botox that it was difficult to find someone able to express non-verbal emotion, particularly anger (which requires considerable facial contortion, unless you can do that steely Anna Wintour thing of shooting daggers without moving a muscle).

That was when the backlash really began. Even Donald Trump got in on the act, tweeting during the Oscars that Kim Novak "should sue her plastic surgeon".

Not that the rest of us really needed celebs to speak out about their failed experiments in immortality – the failures were written so clearly on their faces. Something cannot become nothing, as we all know from Physics-101; what you remove from one place is – as Jamie Lee Curtis pointed out – highly likely to appear in another.

And so, with the strange lines and creases, so often to be found in unexpected spots on the faces of those who have had a lot of Botox – the sides of the nose, the mouth, out towards the ears. Places no lines should normally be, a kind of 'X-marks-the-spot' once you know what to look for. Another thing written so clearly on these artificially smooth and plump faces is desperation. We all know confidence is the most attractive quality, because we've been told it, and have seen it in action time and again.

And what could be more lacking in confidence than waving a white flag of chronic insecurity around in front of you, in the form of sneaky but obvious cosmetic procedures? 'Look at me, I feel edgy, angsty, sometimes worthless,' the frozen forehead and artificially heightened cheek bones say.

Meanwhile, the brigade of women ageing beautifully – Holly Hunter, Jerry Hall, Isabella Rossellini, Jane Seymour, Sigourney Weaver, Helen Mirren, Lauren Hutton and, of course, Meryl Streep – stood firm, offering a realistic alternative that became more and more appealing as the downsides to intervention became more and more obvious; finally we can acknowledge there is a fate worse than ageing.

The cautionary tales are endless – any celebrity magazine will offer up examples of once-beautiful women, and sometimes men, who now look like big cats, or trouts, or roller-coaster riders, or sometimes just painful. For many, it is the inability to stop, or time's refusal to let them stop. And just like drugs, after the initial euphoria, there comes a point when more is definitely not better.

But the fact that, with all their money, and the excellent raw material most are working from, even they cannot get it right, should be a mile-high warning for the rest of us, with our limited budgets and uncertain starting points.

If Actress X – so stunning, so rich, presumably with the world's best cosmetic surgeons on speed dial – can end up looking like she's wearing a Freddy Krueger mask, then there is literally no hope that the rest of us can make a go of this.

To the dedicated plastic surgeon, none of us is beautiful. Instead of charm, the richness of experience in lines and creases, all they see are ghastly imperfections needing smoothing, sanding and filling. But that is their job.

Don't expect a builder to see the beauty of an old house with rising damp, no matter how lovely the wood panelling or cornices.

But for the rest of us, as long as we keep worshipping the blank-faced beauty of 22, we will be living in a sadly restricted world, one which secretly despises the majority of its inhabitants.

We need to learn more than the obvious lesson from the last 25 years. If we stick at that, science and fashion will simply search out new and more alarming ways to halt the march of time.

Instead, we need to insist on the right to beauty of all ages, and the charm of a life's story told in the map of a face.

Belfast Telegraph


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