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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"


by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
What happens to those wonderful laugh lines when they're shot full of Botox? How will anyone know we ever had any fun if our faces are unlined, unlived.
There are two indisputable indications of uncommon bravery. The first is when the military earn their stripes, and the second is when the moms earn their wrinkles.

There's no doubt about it, when today's society not only tolerates but encourages women to seek one or more of today's many forms of physically altering "solutions" to aging, there's a sub-text: our lives will no longer be written on our faces as God intended.

I wonder what God would think if He happened to overhear a recent conversation between my friend, Betty, and her teenage daughter, which went something like this:

"I'm so mad at you, I could scream. I've been upset for two days."

"You have? You don't look upset, Mom. You look serene and peaceful. And you haven't yelled, so how could I possibly know you're angry?"

"I AM yelling! It's just that these Botox and collagen shots keep me from opening my face wide enough for the yell to fully mature."

This conversation sounds like an amusing exaggeration, but it isn't. Well, not much of one anyway. I'll tell you more about Betty later.

Extensive media coverage of Botox, the botulinim toxin which paralyzes muscles preventing frown lines and wrinkles, has created two modern kinds of "passages:" (1) Subjecting ourselves to injections of Botox and collagen is fast becoming a 21st-Century Rite of Passage, and (2) we are witnessing the scientific smoothing of the Passage of Time.

Why not call them what they are -- an eraser for your face.

When we submit our expressions for medical "correction," aren't we criticizing God's design? If He wanted us to remain bland looking, why did He give us such high mountains to climb on the road to maturity, and continue to line our paths with even more boulders when the kids or irritable parents try our patience, not to mention unappreciative employers, bureaucratic telephone menus, tax troubles and finding out that the dreadful noise from that car next to you on the road is really coming from your car?

Such experiences traditionally result in well-earned lines being written on our faces. Many of today's women choose to erase from their faces with injections of Botox and collagen, all evidence of their emotional history. Is this the age of The Bland Leading The Bland?

So, too, are happy experiences recorded. What happens to those wonderful laugh lines when they're shot full of Botox? How will anyone know we ever had any fun if our faces are unlined, unlived.

Perhaps we're not being quite as radical as was Oscar Wilde's character, Dorian Gray, when he surrendered his soul to remain youthful looking, but we are definitely giving up something almost as precious: our expressions. We are inadvertently giving up our innate ability to communicate without words.

God, in His wisdom, has armed women with Very Special Weapons. We do not have to lay a hand on our children or even raise our voices. Why would we, when He has given us non-violent-but-near-lethal alternatives: We have looks that kill, glances that wither, and tongues that lash.

There's a price tag on everything but if the cost of being unfurrowed is our facial expressions, we're being overcharged.

Vegetables and meat are "enhanced" to increase shelf life. Now humans can be "enhanced" to increase face life.

So many people are making doctors' appointments, you'd think Botox was on sale instead of costing up to $500 an injection. I'm no mathematician, but even if you're well-heeled enough to pay $500 per shot and it lasts an estimated four months, it could cost as much as $40,000 for injections between the ages of 40 and 60 after which, I presume, we shouldn't mind having an expression.

By the way, an "early start" is recommended. At first I thought this meant 5 a.m., but no, it means when you're a teenager.

When our daughter asked her father and I if she could have a car for her 18th birthday, we were not thrilled but maintained enough presence of mind to suggest that for every dollar she saved, we would add another dollar, until she had enough money to buy her own car. It was a wise decision, since it took until she was 21 before she got her car. You could have heard our sighs of relief all the way up to the Pearly Gates!

But how would we have handled it if she had asked for Botox shots as many teenagers are doing today? We probably would have told her she'd better plan on marrying a millionaire to pay the medical bills.

Jane Fonda, who did marry one, said, "Women are not forgiven for aging. My old-age wrinkles are Robert Redford's 'lines of distinction'."

Despite Fonda's pithy observation, I think that looking as good as you can is quite different from having a permanent poker face, unless you plan on playing cards with "The Odd Couple's" Oscar Madison. They say a poker face comes in handy when you're actually playing poker. But at your own surprise party?

There have been many popular methods of removing wrinkles in the recent past, stopping just short of applying a steam iron to your face, or filling the cracks around your mouth with spackle.

For instance, there was a time when my friend, Betty, ignored pain and poverty for the greater good of womanhood by subjecting herself to monthly injections of collagen in the lines around her mouth. These lines were doubtless created by years of pursing her lips to better grip her cigarette, a smoking habit she subsequently abandoned. She finally quit the habit of collagen as well, when time proved that this procedure was too painful, needed too often, getting too expensive, and each month, the swelling took longer to go down.

In the late 1980's, when it was the rage, the two of us marinated our faces in Retin-A cream and, until the smoothing effects became noticeable, our faces were so red, friends and passersby alike thought we were in a constant state of sunburned agitation. Either that or we had leaned too long over a hot stove.

We only tried that once because it was very embarrassing when our lips started to peel and looked as though they were sprouting little pink hairs.

We weren't the only ones to make an unsuccessful effort to hold onto youth. Television personality Geraldo Rivera succumbed to the time-stopping effects of The Dorian Gray Syndrome when he allowed a doctor to withdraw body fat from his buttocks with a very nasty-looking syringe, the contents of which were then injected into the natural crevices on Geraldo's face. Judging by his reaction to that needle, he received something he hadn't bargained on: wince lines.

Celebrities have been using Botox or equal for at least ten years, and you can easily tell which celebrities, by their expressions, which are, of necessity, expressionless.

I suspect a certain aging rock super star who recently gave her (allegedly) last concert, has indulged in this treatment, since her smile has become so tiny and tight, when she talks her mouth cannot enlarge beyond the size of a Spaghetti-O.

Considering that women have long fought for equal rights in all professions, isn't it one of life's ironies that so many rush headlong to their doctors for injections to make them feel as though they look good? Why? To attract men of course, though I can't believe men are that easily fooled. Could a man possibly think an inflexible face means a stable personality? If so, I'm sure their women would laugh if, unlike that rock super star, they were still able to.

In addition to the folly of trying to fool nature, there are side effects that should be considered. For instance, what can a Botox user do when the sun glares in her unprotected eyes and she finds herself unable to squint? I suppose she could blink really fast, if the Botox hasn't also paralyzed her blinking muscles.

A patient might even come away from the procedure looking like 50's screen goddess, the late Gloria Grahame. I suppose, like Miss Grahame, the patient would then have earned the unkind title of "Novocain Lips."

Pity the poor stand-up comic with an audience of Botox and collagen recipients. How will he know if he's funny or not if no one can laugh? Will he be like the tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it. Does the tree make a sound? Will the audience?

In order to avoid casting aspersions on women with enough spare cash to become habitues of the plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and cosmeticians who dispense these shots, we should also consider the bright side of The Botox Age:

The American Medical Association states Botox "may cause difficulty in swallowing." That should help with weight loss.

There could be a resurgence of the old-time peppy English phrase, "Keep a stiff upper lip."

Doctors advise patients "not to lean forward or do strenuous activity for 4 to 6 hours after the procedure." I interpret this as meaning you won't have to pick up after your kids, at least not until your swelling goes down. Of course, when you tell them to clean up their own mess, they'll think you don't mean it because you'll look so nonthreatening, so expressionless, so bland.

I think God put history on faces as clues for our children.

How else will they know that those lines are from worrying about them when they were little, that the furrows between your brows came from reading them to sleep with only a night light for illumination, that the creases across your forehead are from the questioning looks you gave rather than accusing them when they came home after curfew, that the crinkles around your eyes are from laughing over their high school hijinks, that the lines around your mouth are from cheering them on in ballgames or stage productions.

And maybe you got that double chin from bending your head all those years to say goodnight prayers with them.

Can even Botox stifle such facial history?

"Time will tell," but only if we let it.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
August 2003 Column
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