What an odd paradox to find myself in.
On one hand, I really am fed up with being told everywhere I turn that the pinnacle of beauty for women is reached in their twenties, with a sharp decline after that. I really love the idea of giving an irreverent middle finger to these standards that say my value lies in how youthful I look.
On the other hand, I really like my Botox.
I’ll be the first to admit that I started getting Botox for all the wrong reasons. I was in my mid-thirties and desperately trying to look and feel like I did in my twenties. Looking back, I can see that I had a really unhealthy obsession with being passable as a twenty-something. I was taking the changes that came with age, and parenthood, and the challenges of life very hard. All I wanted to do was erase any sign that I was getting older.
I cringe when I look at photos from that time of my life. When the skin around your eyes is unable to move, it makes your smile (and your frown) look incredibly strange. Stilted. Almost alien. I couldn’t see it at the time, focused as I was on my forehead that was so smooth you could land a plane on it. But now that I see it, I’m embarrassed that I walked around looking like that for so long.
In my late thirties, I stopped getting Botox altogether. I had matured quite a bit and (praise God) had finally freed myself from the obsession with looking twenty. I decided I needed to let the Botox melt out of my system and see what my face really looked like now that I was approaching forty.
For a while, I felt really confident. I was proud of myself for walking away from Botox and living in my real, authentic skin. I thought I was doing something positive for the feminist cause—pushing back against a youth-obsessed culture that says that aging naturally is ugly and undesirable. That felt really good.
But with time, as age set in and my wrinkles deepened, I found myself once again feeling the urge to go back to Botox.
I was conflicted. Hadn’t I decided that it was shameful to lean into these toxic beauty standards this way? Wasn’t I betraying all the work I had done to normalize normal aging if I went back under the needle?
It took months to sort this out. Finally, I realized that it’s important to have principles, but it’s just as important to be happy in my own skin. After doing some research, I discovered that there are ways for women my age to get a light dose of Botox that will soften their wrinkles and give a “well-rested” look, while allowing them to remain looking true to their age.
I found that this was a perfect middle-ground for me.
It finally seemed like I was getting Botox not to glamorize my twenties or capitulate to other people’s opinions about my beauty, but rather, because it made me happy. I discovered that I was actually quite confident in my own skin—wrinkles and all—but that I just felt a little more put-together with smoother skin. I felt that, for the first time, I was doing Botox for the right reasons: purely for myself, to enhance my confidence rather than to give me confidence. And that was huge.
It’s easy to make Botox, fillers, and cosmetic surgery the anti-woman boogie man. They are harbingers of our youth-obsessed culture that says women are only of value when they are young, supple, and wrinkle-free. We see them as a prison that keeps women trapped and miserable, perpetually chasing a youth they can never get back.
But I think refusing to seek treatments that make us happy is just jumping out of one prison and into another. Why not take advantage of available resources that allow us to feel more put-together, more confident, or more like ourselves? Of course, we all should be doing internal work to find contentment in our appearance at every age and without such invasive procedures, if only for our own mental health and well-being. I just think we need to give ourselves permission to find our own place within the youth-obsessed culture we’ve been given—choosing to do what feels best for ourselves and not for anyone else.
So, I’m going to continue getting my Botox. At least until I decide it no longer suits me.
This isn’t an endorsement for Botox or any such procedure. If remaining totally natural is what sounds best for you, I think that’s a beautiful thing! I simply want to show women that there doesn’t have to be shame in wanting to do something to augment yourself or your appearance if it makes you happy. True liberation is deciding what is best for ourselves, without concern for what others will think or whether they approve.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.