For my birthday, I received an unexpected gift — a voucher for Botox.
I am reasonably “low maintenance” — I rarely wear make-up, and my skin care regime is basic. I do not have a job that requires me to dress nicely. I’m either writing at home in loungewear and knitted socks, or at the hospital in a uniform that resembles bedroom curtains.
I notice and shrug off the early signs of ageing on my face — the sag occurring at my jowls, that loss of plumpness. Yet one thing bothers me. The frown that forms a permanent canyon between my thick brows. The person who bought me that botox voucher knew me well, and I did briefly clutch it to my chest in rapture.
The month or two following my birthday were not the best, full of drama and tears and illness. Booking in my Botox was the furtherest thing from my mind. My dear mum, concerned about me, took me out to lunch.
“Amy,” she says, “you have to stop frowning.”
“I can’t help it. It’s there.”
“Relax your face.”
But I am a good daughter, so I tried anyway despite my bad mood, and discovered not-frowning made my eyes water. The rebellious side of me decided to hold off further on the Botox. But the lunch my mum had bought me was beautiful and nourishing. She’s a good mum.
I’ve had Botox before. The frown has been around since I was in my twenties. This isn’t a battle against ageing. So why was a small part of me troubled about erasing my frown? I don’t feel it’s a slippery slope, that I’ll end up with goldfish lips and cheeks that look like a chipmunk’s. I’m not worried about side-effects or a frozen look. The threat of an eyebrow sag does not perturb me.
I don’t like my frown because it makes me look annoyed when I’m not. It makes me look troubled when I’m not. But after I get my Botox, will the opposite hold? Will my inability to further deepen my crease at someone who angers me cause me to not be taken seriously? Am I buying into the narrative of how the ideal woman should look – demure and smiling, certainly not annoyed?
There’s nothing I hate more as a woman than being told to smile. A smiling woman makes a man feel comfortable — a smiling woman is perceived as less likely to challenge or cause trouble. When a man tells a woman to smile, the message is that we exist to please him, and that we should alter our appearance to do so, no matter how we’re feeling.
In preparation for life as an author, I did a public speaking course. Someone would make a speech, and an experienced speaker would offer feedback. I would bristle every time a female speaker was told she needed to smile more. She could have been talking about the death of her grandad. The feedback would be the same — “you need to smile more.” The male speakers would not receive this feedback. I planned to do a speech about the pressures on women, including the pressure to smile, but I was concerned my feedback would discuss how I did not smile and a scuffle would have ensued.
I want to believe I’m erasing my frown for myself. Still, I wait a couple of months before I cash in my voucher because I’m grumpy and tired and overworked, and I feel I need my frown. That in some ways, I deserve it. Besides, there are a few things happening around the globe, beyond my little life, that require a bit of frowning. How pathetic and small are my problems! And then I tell myself to be kind to myself, that I am Ginsberg’s golden sunflower. I drop the martyrdom, and book in my Botox.
As the beauty therapist examines my furrowed brow, I chat to her. She looks far too young to have four teenagers, her forehead above her mask is completely smooth, and there are no crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. She talks about her children. How they are wonderful children who rarely cause trouble. ‘What’s your secret?’, I ask, because I’m always after parenting tips. ‘Communication’, she says. ‘Talk to them. And use conversation to encourage critical thinking and build empathy’. Wise words, I think, and it helps me to trust her as she injects the toxin into my forehead.
Amy is an author, book reviewer, registered nurse, and occasional writer of children’s poetry. She lives in Titirangi with her six-year-old daughter, a fluffy white cat and a dozen pet garden snails. She has a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. Her first novel, Fake Baby, won the Wallace Foundation Prize and was long-listed for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. When not working on her second novel, she pulls shifts in Newborn Intensive Care.