Under the needle

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Words || Erin Christie

‘Why does everyone want to look like Kylie Jenner?’ I type into Google, stressing over where to start the research for this article. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by a certain look lately, as well as my inability to live up to it. If you’re pop-culture savvy, or have a Facebook account, you might already know the look I’m referring to. There are variations, but most of it centres on lips and cheeks inflated with collagen to give a woman’s face a pretty, puffy look that resembles that of the youngest Kardashian sister. The look feels pervasive lately, something that became apparent to me after indulging in the overtly ridiculous season of Married at First Sight that aired this year. I take great freakin’ issue with the fact that my worldviews might be influenced by Australia’s trashiest television show, but as these actors are meant to represent ‘regular people’, I found it creepy that three of the women looked the exact same. They weren’t similar in respect to age – they ranged from 28-38 – and all came from different ethnic backgrounds. However, their lips and cheeks were filled with collagen, giving them all an uncannily similar appearance. Their cloneishness is off-putting – there is something bizarre about their petrified faces, something about how they don’t move in the same way. I had plenty of opinions on Botox and associated procedures before this, but now it’s something I feel I need to debunk.

Before you mount your soapbox and waggle your finger at me for judging the choices of women, I should probably explain why this grates on me. Having suffered with cerebral palsy and dystonia for the last 20-something years, I am no stranger to Botox use. Botox injections are a medical procedure, they are used for much more than the alteration of faces and other body parts. They can relieve people like myself from spasms and pain brought on by taut, overworking muscles. They can also help people who sweat profusely, as injections can slow down overactive sweat glands. The toxin, when injected, interrupts the connection between nerves and the muscles, which are temporarily paralysed. This is how it smooths out wrinkles, giving an appearance of youth to those who use it cosmetically. However, a cosmetic procedure will see the injection into the skin rather than muscle.

Quarterly, I sit in a chair in a sterile doctors’ office, and have Botox injected in seven spots in my neck, and five spots in my arm. It has been the same procedure, or a slight variation, every three months for the last ten years. After that much time, I’ve grown somewhat desensitised to needles. I can take a flu shot without even blinking, sit comfortably through a blood test, chatting happily with the nurses as they drain me of the stuff. However, despite the time that passes, Botox injections still really hurt. Despite the time that passes, I’m still steeling myself for the pain. And despite the time that passes, the jokes still grate on me like nails on a chalkboard.

My best friend’s mum has a group of Botox-using friends. When they discuss their procedures, I step forward to tell them about mine. I get laughed at: ‘What, starting early are you?’ My uncle’s youth-obsessed girlfriend looks at me incredulously, asks me how I’ve managed to be so lucky. I feel so far from lucky that I can barely see it some days, and a slow knot begins to grow in the pit of my stomach. It tightens with each joke, with each comment about ‘prevention being better than cure’ when it comes to wrinkles. I feel worse with each conversation about the miracle of Botox – which is getting weirder and weirder still. Listening to a podcast recently, I learned about Botox injections to the earlobe – to give the appearance of youthful ears that haven’t been dragged down by years of earring-wear – and collagen injections to the nipple. Hard nipples are in, you see. The women on the podcast also discuss American cosmetic surgeons who have seen celebrities influence their clients throughout certain periods of time. Franklin Rose, a Texas surgeon, explained to The Guardian that Ivanka and Melania Trump are currently the look his clients are after, but throughout time it has switched from Angelina Jolie, to Jennifer Aniston, to Jennifer Lopez. In the same article, London-based surgeon Julian de Silva explained the concept his ‘perfect face’, based on the most-requested celebrity features he has seen during his career. The most popular nose was Kate Middleton’s, Keira Knightley had the most sought-after eyes, Penelope Cruz was the inspiration for lips, and Miley Cyrus was the standard forehead. Isn’t this terrifying somehow? If so many people are hoping to look like someone else, where will we get our individuality? None of these women represent the perfect human in any aspect, because the perfect human doesn’t exist. I’m all for the access to choice for any woman, anywhere, but I also feel stuck. Why do we all want to look the same?

I’m 12 years old the first time I’m injected with Botox. Laying on a narrow bed in Westmead Children’s Hospital, I breathe in the laughing gas, watch painted lambs jump over painted fences on the wall, and feel the needles push into my neck. As the next week passed, my mum took a picture of me each night, and together we watched my neck muscles release themselves from the grip of my brain injury. They stopped pushing my left ear toward my left shoulder, and my chin towards my right. All my discomfort – from the physical pain to the internal insecurities – dissipated. Upon reflection, basically Botox made me feel good. Having a normal neck gave me a confidence I never knew throughout my early childhood. If I didn’t have access to it, I’m not too sure I’d ever be able to access that confidence. It forces me to think why people who have it willingly are any different to me.

Everyone should feel entitled to chase what makes them feel good, what makes them feel confident. I, like every other flawed human, watch the world around me inspired entirely by my own perspective. Botox injections to me are a bleeding neck, a humming ultrasound machine, my kind and gentle doctor. But they’re also freedom from pain and discomfort, and access to confidence. To someone else, collagen injections might be freedom from the pain and discomfort from insecurity, and their own access to confidence. When it comes down to it, I am slowly accepting that there really is no difference between myself, and the girl with the lip fillers. We’re both happy and we’re both so completely beautiful, no matter how we define it for ourselves.

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