Recently the Daily Mail published “Ageless Gillian and the BotoX Files,” essentially Botox-shaming Gillian Anderson with a panel of experts who speculate that the 47-year old star has undergone Botox, fillers, and other anti-aging treatments. Gillian is returning to the nation’s screens this month as her famous TV character, FBI agent Dana Scully from The X-Files. She looks gorgeous. Who cares how she got that way?
Even celebrities who aren’t called out in the media are partaking. Last year, Julia Roberts posted an “au naturale” selfie on Instagram, condemning Botox and plastic surgery. Jennifer Aniston has also taken a stand against Botox, saying, “I am not injecting shit into my face.”
And yet, plastic surgery and cosmetic enhancements are becoming more commonplace than ever: last year, more than 30 million people visited RealSelf to research elective cosmetic procedures like Botox. In fact, Botox was the #1 minimally invasive topic researched by users in 2015. But popular culture and public commentary haven’t kept up—Botox shaming is still a large part of the conversation about women and aging.
My question: What’s the big deal about Botox? Why are we shaming women who get it? I appreciate the underlying message of celebrating natural beauty and embracing aging, but why should a woman feel shamed for it? Shouldn’t we let people make their own choices? There’s a complicated set of interdependent elements involved in this conversation, but in my opinion, there are four main forces at work.
1. The Misconception: Cosmetic Enhancements Mean You’re Shallow
There’s a widely held belief that anyone who gets cosmetic surgery, Botox, or any other age prevention treatment is shallow; looks must be all you care about. Not only that, but you must also suffer from a lack of confidence—why else would you want to change the way you look? Proponents of a Botox-free lifestyle say things like “it’s the soul that needs surgery” (borrowing from the Beyoncé song “Pretty Hurts”). Basically, if we get Botox then we don’t love ourselves.
2. The Catch 22: Good Cosmetic Work Is Undetectable
The thing about really good cosmetic work is that the untrained eye doesn’t usually detect it. Getting cosmetic enhancement is still a dirty little secret not only for celebrities, but for most women. And those that have undetectable work don’t admit it. Given the shaming out there, why would they? Ask any Charlotte’s Book expert who treats celebrities, and they’ll have a story about someone on the red carpet who says they look great because of a diet (immediately after liposuction), or look “rested” because they spent a week in Mexico (following an expertly placed Botox treatment).
Fortunately, a handful of “ageless” celebrities openly discuss the procedures they’ve tried. Robin Wright Penn admits she does baby amounts of Botox to soften the aging process, and Cindy Crawford admits to Botox and fillers. You’d never know it if they didn’t tell, but little by little, women like them are relaxing the image of Botox. Kate Hudson has the right attitude about ‘Boty’: “Why not? Right now, it’s not something I feel I need but I think it’s great that it’s available,” she told British magazine Hello! “The other day, my girlfriend called me and said, ‘I’m going to get a little Boty.’ So I think there’s nothing wrong with a little Boty call if you feel you want it.”
3. The New Rules: Anti-Aging Is A Dirty Word
A new movement is happening in beauty: the go-to buzzword “anti-aging” is slowly becoming a dirty word. The new rules say that we should be proud of our lines and wrinkles, not try to get rid of them with injections. I think this is a great change in our society, and I applaud it.
But can’t we do this and stop shaming people who want to address their lines and wrinkles? Unfortunately, a lot of things happen when you age—loss of collagen, loss of muscle, slower metabolism, duller skin. Should I be shamed if I want to fight back against some of it?
4. The Media: How Our Society Responds To Impossible Standards
The media bombards us every day with wrinkle-free, pore-free, photo-shopped faces, and it’s toughest for aging women. We see how youth is favored, but we also see women growing “older” through the lens of skilled photoshoppers (we’re talking about your Lancome ads, Julia Roberts)—the media presents a near-impossible ideal. The expectation to look our best as women becomes a very confusing fight: society tells us to be our best self, gives us 9 ways to improve ourselves, 6 perfect ideas to fix what’s wrong, but we aren’t allowed to actually use these ideas because then we’re shamed for not embracing the aging process.
It’s unfortunate that current society convinces us that the younger and thinner you are, the better your life will be. It’s a terrible message that’s hammered into our subconscious daily. It can lead to depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other unhealthy behaviors, but none of these problems—from the media’s ideal to resulting body image issues—will be solved by shaming women who choose to take advantage of a few anti-aging procedures.
Aren’t We All Looking For the Same Thing?
We can’t change our society’s ideals overnight, but we can stop judging each other for the decisions we make. Just because someone is interested in a fuller lip or bigger breasts or using the latest anti-aging procedures doesn’t mean they’re insecure or shallow; it means they’re doing what feels good. And at the end of the day, we all want the same things: to feel confident, secure, happy and healthy.
Image: Vogue, December 2009. Cate Blanchett photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Cate Blanchett has spoken out against botox and plastic surgery.