Pretty Poison




New York Times
February 10, 2002


Five years ago, Anna Quindlen wrote that there were three stages in the life span of women: pre-Babe, Babe and post-Babe. Now there are four: pre-Babe, Babe, Botox Babe and Cher.


Baby boomer babes don't want to be post-anything, even if it means freezing their faces into freakish death masks.


The Times's Alex Kuczynski wrote on Thursday about imminent F.D.A. approval for cosmetic use of Botox — the botulism neurotoxin — to paralyze muscles and erase wrinkles.

"It is now rare in certain social enclaves," she observed, "to see a woman over the age of 35 with the ability to look angry."


A face with character is passé. A face without expression is chic.


Dr. Nancy Etcoff, a Harvard psychologist who wrote "Survival of the Prettiest," was quoted as saying that in Botox Nation, "We will look at wrinkles the way we look at cracked or discolored teeth — remnants of the past." She added, "It is as though we have given up on authenticity."




                   Before                              After


Women have put more faith in artifice than authenticity for ages.

Shakespeare wrote in his sonnets about women fighting " 'gainst Time's scythe" and "Time's thievish progress" by primping and painting — "fairing the foul with art's false borrow'd face."


From Victorian corsets to the silicone-gel bra, from hennaed hair and pupil-dilating belladonna drops to nose bobs and collagen-swollen lips, women have always sought to look younger and prettier and more fecund. According to Dr. Etcoff, men simply gravitate like zombies toward a "maximally fertile woman, or at least one who looks that way."


Feminism was supposed to release women from the tyranny of the unnatural ideal. But the ideal is more unnatural than ever. In the immortal words of Patricia Wexler, a New York dermatologist who caters to uncrinkled celebrities: "A scowl is a totally unnecessary expression."


The explosive popularity of Botox (men use it, too) is an irony wrapped in a paradox for women. After all these years of trying to train men to respond better to emotional cues, women are making it even harder by erasing the emotion from their faces.


Actresses are caught in a cosmetic Catch-22. They must look young to get juicy roles, so they do Botox, which makes it impossible to play juicy roles.


"Their faces can't really move properly," complained the "Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann, who pines for the frowns of yesterface.




A 44-year-old woman attempting to frown before & after Botox injection








Men long carped that women were not suited for the workplace or the White House because they were too transparently emotional. So now will men, confronted with blank-faced brigades of Botox babes, carp that women are too opaque and blasé?


Women are evolving backward — becoming more focused on their looks than ever. The only "progress" is that some are now willing to own up to extreme cosmetological exertions.

We may be at war with terrorists, but the cover of the new People magazine is a post-eye-job, creaseless Greta Van Susteren, who proclaims that with her plastic surgery, "I've made it safe for other people."


As one journalist drolly notes, "Tim Russert is the last person standing in network news who can definitely still scowl."

There's nothing wrong with self- improvement — except when it literally becomes self-effacement.


In the movie "Brazil," the director Terry Gilliam envisioned a nightmare future of shrink-wrapped visages and in-house plastic surgeons. A doctor assures a rubbery socialite that he can make her look 20 years younger, "25 if we just drain the excess fluids from the pouches."

New York doctors are already envisioning princess-to-frog (or dog) scenarios in which men marry smooth-faced women and, four months and no Botox injections later, wake up next to a Shar-Pei.


Maintenance is tricky, and if you get the wrong doctor, you could find yourself in Picasso's Blue Period.


It's too much to hope, given our jones for things age-defying, that a Botox backlash will take root and that women who wince and grow worry lines will have an exotic mystique.

But Robert Redford recently called expressionless beauty a bit ugly: "You end up looking body-snatched."


 Heather Paige Kent

Heather Page, star of  "That's Life", whose husband

is a plastic surgeon, keeps a supply of Botox in the refrigerator



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