Basically what it boils down to is that, at fifteen, my hips didn’t click when I jumped out of bed naked, and my forehead didn’t look like that of a perturbed Shar-Pei.
In order to combat the physical effects of aging, I came up with several different approaches. I could walk around with a tub of Vaseline and smudge it over the eyelids of everyone who looks at me. I could invest in those ugly full-face fly glasses that prune-faced starlets rely on to cover up their hangovers and crinkly bits. Or I could get Botox. I mean, my dermatologist said that would be a viable option. (I refer to her as Dr. Pay-Me.)
Mind you, I’m not that old. My twenties only died a few months ago. I still get carded. From a distance, I’m a teenager, albeit one whose balls just dropped. I don’t think I need anything to get nipped or tucked, and after seriously researching breast augmentation I can say with some authority that plastic surgery in general is gross. When I blow out the candles on my saggy, wrinkly fifties, when my tattoos make it look like I stripped naked and rolled around in a kiddie pool filled with melting Cray-Pas, when menopause comes roaring into my ovaries like a forest fire of rage, I will hopefully have had so much sex that my vagina doubles as a wind-tunnel where skydiving teams practice on weekends. Plastic surgery won’t be an option. Instead, I will go and live in the forest and be a botanist, like a 16th century witch, if global warming hasn’t killed us all by then. Age won’t be nothin’ but a number that allows me to get into movies on the cheap.
Currently, I may still wear Doc Marten boots and listen to bands whose founding members are either dead or in Malibu senior centers, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a girl. And as harshly generalizing and misogynistic as it may sound, I believe that being a woman makes me hyper-critical of myself. (Irony!) I have fat days more often than not. I’ve been known to cry when every outfit I try on makes me feel as though I look like a puckered dog anus. I find nearly invisible blemishes on my face and avoid spending long stretches of time naked in front of a mirror unless there’s someone with me in the room who’s into that sort of thing. I still have a soft-spot for Dawson’s Creek. So it’s no wonder that I discovered the first inklings of wrinkles on my forehead a few years back, and the opening act for crows’ feet next to my eyes soon after, and that this visual revelation led to the sort of self-loathing hysteria only associated with torn Spanx.
I bought creams that promised the kind of stuff as vaginoplasty; I’d feel tighter, fresher, younger. I got a pair of those cursed hubcap-sized sunglasses beloved by the Olsen twins. I made sure any photographs of myself were lit to the point that I looked like Powder. I started to pay attention to adds for Botox. I counted up the pennies in the tattoo jar and decided that I could forgo needles filled with ink for some needles filled with…neurotoxic protein.
So here’s everything you never wanted to know about Botox and were too busy doing better things to ask…
A west coast ophthalmologist in the late 60s began to study how standardized botulinum toxin could be used in medicine. He took botulinium toxin type A (like my personality!) and began testing on monkeys. In 1980, he used the neurotoxin to treat crossed-eyes (strabismus) and excessive blinking (blepharospasm) in people. Botulinum was being used for good. Science is still on the up and up.
Later on, botulinum was used to treat spasms in the lower esophagus and sweating. Both are shitty conditions, both deserve to be remedied. The miracle of medicine and all that. I mean, after all, what is penicillin but the Superman of molds?
But then some asshole had the bright idea to shoot botulinum into someone’s face. He was probably in an unhappy marriage and the test subject was probably his wife. Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean that, Dr. Richard Clark of Sacramento, California (who is still very much alive and practicing the physiognomy puncturing procedure he pioneered.) I’m sure your marriage, if you have one, is stellar and that your wife isn’t insecure at all. Not a bit. Nope.
Dr. Clark, who had been at the forefront of studying botulinum’s use on wrinkles back in 1989, stepped his game up in 1992, when he documented his use of BTX-A protein to remedy glabellar frown lines. (The ones that form between your eyes.)
So, fine, some woo-woo California doctor decided to pooke ladies’ faces to iron out their age and make them seem more apathetic than a Williamsburg hipster. Why should I judge? I regularly get ink put under my skin by nutjobs with needles. But it begs the question, what is the age-defying shit? It ain’t magic.
Botulinum toxin, or the basis of BTX-A, is a protein that is a biproduct of Clostridium botulinum. While that may sound like a Dutch black metal band, it’s actually the producer of the most powerful neurotoxin in the world. Sisters to botulinum toxin cause “flaccid muscular paralysis,” which, without me getting into too much detail, you can just assume that it, like most things that involve the word flaccid, is a very bad thing.
Ol’ Clostridium botulinum was first isolated in 1895 by Emile van Ermengem, who had traced it back to a piece of a poorly cured ham that killed thirty-four people. It was originally called Bacillus botulinus, botulus being the Latin word for ‘sausage’ and crappy sausage and its subsequent poisoning being a big problem in 18th and 19th century Germany. That foodborne illness became known as botulism, or botulinus intoxication. You may have heard of it. As a kid I remember my histrionic mother holding up a can of tomatoes that was swollen, the metal on either side jutting out slightly.
“This is a sign of botulism! Don’t ever, ever, ever eat anything that comes out of a can that looks like this! Just throw it away! And go to church! No sex before marriage! Stop listening to that Marilyn Man Son!” (Edited for length.)
Of course I thought she was crazy, being scared of a can. But it turns out that, as with most non-fun-related things she warned me about, she was right. Botulism can occur as a result of clumsily preserved or home-canned food with a low acid content. Incorrect pressurization or preservation times are often the culprit. Botulism strains can also be found in soil. The toxic affliction occurs either through the colonization of bacteria in the digestive tract, through an open wound, or by eating whatever is contained within those crappy hippie canning jobs. It can’t be spread from person to person, so feel free to make-out with whoever you know who is suffering from botulism. Chances are they won’t be able to fight you off, as every kind of botulism leads to paralysis.
Symptoms usually begin with paralysis of fascial muscles, spreading to the limbs and, in the most severe cases, the muscles associated with breathing, which leads to respiratory failure. It’s because of this that all cases of botulism are treated as a public health issue and all symptoms are considered an emergency. Before you start swearing off all food that comes in a can (No don’t make me give up my Beefaroni! Noooo!) botulism can be killed more easily than a non-descript ninja in a Stephen Segal movie. Just cook or autoclave the shit at or above 121°C (250 °F) for three minutes. Or just boil the food for a few minutes. And don’t feed babies honey. (Really.) That’s it. Surprise, you don’t have botulism! Unless you want it injected into your face.
So back to putting it in your visage. After side effects were determined to be “rare, mild, and treatable,” Botox was approved by the FDA in 1989 for the treatment of blepharospasm, hemifacial spasm, and strabismus. Thirteen years later they approved botulinum toxin type A, aka Botox Cosmetic, to be used to treat those pesky glabellar frown lines. The results last up to eight months. Then you have to get shot up with toxins again. That’s what you get for frowning!
Funny thing, the FDA had to institute a new method of safety testing because the public was concerned about, y’know, injecting toxins into mugs in order to look like expressionless automatons was maybe not so safe. So the FDA requires that the median lethal dose (“LD50”) be tested for each batch. Yay! Safety! Sort of.
Now, Botox isn’t just used on self-hating housewives or cougar wannabes. The non-cosmetic variety is actually really useful and helps in the treatment of muscle spasms, cervical dystonia, chronic migraine, excessive sweating, and upper motor neuron syndrome.
I don’t have any of those conditions. I’m just a girl who doesn’t like the fact that her face indicates that she’s had a few awesome years soaked in Smirnoff and that she worried a lot in her early twenties. Is having my mother’s threat of my face freezing like that come true worth it to get rid of my premature wrinkles? Especially if the remedy costs as much as a few days at a Caribbean all-inclusive resort…and requires neurotoxins?
In case you’ve got botulism in your skull and your brain is paralyzed, the answer is no.
The only remedy is worrying less, eating more, and low lighting. Also, not giving a shit. (It turns out that’s the remedy for most things, in fact.)
Maybe the only way to reconcile my angst that I’m not ready to let go of my punk-rock youth is to age into it instead of fighting it. After all, what’s more rebellious than dedicating my adult life to having fun and not giving a sagging-ass’ shit about how I look? If I can wear the countless things I’m grateful for on my face, I might look a little worn out, but I’ll hopefully just appear to be well-loved. And it all looks the same in the dark anyway.