Home Catalog Ordering News and Reviews

What Are Old People For?
How Elders Will Save the World
by William H. Thomas, M.D.

From Part One

The Botox Brigade (Continued)

Initially employed to control painful and disfiguring muscle spasms, the medication found a new use when a dermatologist injected it into the forehead of his office receptionist. As if by magic, the drug eliminated her frown line and a revolution was launched. While undeniably effective in eradicating wrinkles, there are side effects. These include, but are not limited to, droopy eyelids, flu-like symptoms, muscle weakness, facial pain, drooling, and nausea. Not to be forgotten are rare but serious episodes of shock, respiratory failure, and heart attack. For the price of a little poison, we can look younger.

The transient nature of the relief provided by Botox should be emphasized because, in addition to the drug’s side effects, its use can lead to a bizarre form of dependency. A New York Times article on the subject reported, “Because Botox wears off, more injections are required to maintain its effects or the patient’s face will return to its wrinkly state. Dr. Michelle Copeland, a plastic surgeon in New York, said Botox use is already so prevalent among her patients that she has to ask their ages. “I look at their faces and say, ‘Remind me, are you 70? 50?’ I can’t really tell anymore,” she said.

In his book The Force of Character, psychologist James Hillman explores what is lost when artificial means are used to alter the age of one’s own face. “If you imagine your face as a phenomenon…with its own destiny, then all that goes on there, after sixty especially, is a work in progress, building the image, preparing a face that has little to do with the faces that you meet. A face is being made, often against your will, as witness to your character.” Hillman then quotes the ultimate authority, Marilyn Monroe, who said, “I want to grow old without facelifts. They take the life out of a face, the character. I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made.”

The Botox phenomenon exploits our dim and uninformed attitude toward the approach of age, and does so at a profit. Off the Record Research (a trade publication for dermatologists) quotes a nameless cosmetic surgeon on the monetary benefits of Botox injections: “It is a product that dermatologists can sell and make a reasonable profit—and the product does not involve dealing with insurance companies.” The profit motive, the mass media’s love affair with the new, and the anxiety provoked by growing old in a youth-obsessed culture have led millions to surrender their faces to the war on wrinkles. We are being asked to unmake what we have spent a lifetime making. What do we receive in return for this sacrifice? Not youth. Instead, we are given, at best, the facsimile of youth. Expressiveness, passion, and history are pillaged in the pursuit of youth’s fresh blankness.

People fear wrinkles because of what they seem to say about us. They are the sum of all the days we have lived and will never live again. They tell our story even when we do not want that story told. Even the attempt to erase them becomes part of what is written on our faces. We—the doers, the movers, the shakers, the achievers, the rocks of our families and communities—are being written upon. It shocks us to see ourselves, for the first time, as paper and not the pen we imagine ourselves to be.

Wrinkles are painless and harmless. They are us and we are them.

© VanderWyk & Burnham. All Rights Reserved.