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Real Women Frown

In the Botox Age, women (but not men) are scorned for their furrowed brows. Now that's sad.

By Amanda Euringer 17 Jun 2004 |
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Some years back, I read an article by Jeanne Becker (you know, the Fashion TV Queen), outlining a new form of cosmetic surgery she had tried in order to rid herself of that eternal "stress line" between her brows. Until that moment, I had always thought of Jeanne as a smart woman in a dumb field, and bent my ear in her direction.

The general gist of the article was: The doctor injected poison between my brows and paralyzed my forehead. I can no longer frown, but it seems to make a difference to my wrinkles so…I'm gonna keep it up!

I was aghast and horrified at the extent of human stupidity, and chalked it up to a quickly passing fad that would be soon go the way of foot binding.

Frozen starlets

Then, recently, I was enjoying the guilty pleasure of a People magazine, the Oscar Special Edition, when I was stopped, mid-thumb, by a two-page pull-out of a half dozen Oscar beauties. There they were, six of Hollywood's leading ladies in their dazzling jewels, and all wearing the same witless expression on their faces: empty, frozen, placid brows … not a single wince or furrow among them.

I took the magazine over to the mirror and studied my own face. I am thirty three, still a good five to ten years younger than many of the actresses displayed, and already my brow carries a natural crease that is almost imperceptible if I think only really vacant thoughts about my hair, or a new nail colour I might want to apply.

But these were actresses, I thought, looking back at the page. How were they supposed to portray real women in real situations if they could not frown? What exactly is wrong with frowning? Grumpiness is not necessarily attractive, but fierceness and determination are definitely qualities that I admire. I must say that I cannot really imagine "Nicky" playing a strong willed heroine with her new expression of slightly paralyzed calm.

In a recent article entitled, The Triumph of Botox, Dr. Jean Carruthers (the mother of Botox) says that Botox is so popular because it is predictable, repeatable, and has a low rate of side effects. The main side effect is that a patient may lose her ability to frown … which Dr. Carruthers believes is not such a bad thing.

Botox 'can remove negativity'

Dr. Carruthers is quoted as saying that in Japan (that hotbed of radical feminism), they have schools to teach women not to frown; that she can tell Asian people who are born here because they have frown lines. She then goes on the say that a woman with a Botox "enhancement" can make a more "positive impression … because if a woman has deep furrows, people think she is frustrated; she's not coping well.  [Botox] can remove the negativity."

Just like binding your feet can remove unsightly toes, and reduce unnecessary athleticism.

Dr. Carruthers goes on to insinuate that these types of lines - while enhancing a man's authority - are not empowering to women. As I look at the botoxed faces of some of the most "powerful" women in Hollywood, I am filled with a dreadful sadness at a world where a woman's face is no longer allowed to show distaste - except perhaps through a subtle hardening of the mouth. I have personally poked fun at articles written in the 1950s about how a wife should never show her husband any sign of distaste; how she should always greet her husband at the door - with dinner ready, and a pleasing countenance. It seems we now wear our girdles inside our skin, and from the expression of the faces that wear them, they seem to be as tight.

My copy of Kathleen Raine's Collected Poems arrives by mail the day after my Botox revelation. The book jacket states that she has been described as "one of the greatest living poets writing in the English language". The cover is graced by a lovely portrait of her wearing a whimsical expression which includes no less than four of the "unattractive" vertical facial creases. My 4 year-old daughter is entranced with her portrait, clearly unruffled by Ms. Raine's "negativity". It is hard not to be captivated by the poet; she is projecting a kind of immenseness from the inside; her deeply etched creases rising from her brows like lightning.

Obliterating a poet's thought lines

Now, I am not a graphic artist, but in the interest of journalism I decide to Botox Kathleen Raine's brow with a little help from Photoshop. I print out a copy of the real Raine, and her Botox-"empowered" self, and then hold a multigenerational poll in my family.

This is actually my partner's idea. He is a Raine-lover, and self-professed realist, who claims to prefer women the natural way. He thinks this will be a great way to prove my case…until he sees the photos.

"Well, actually, she does look better, kind-of…"

"What?! How can you say that?"

"She looks sort of calmer, and peaceful"

"But she's a poet, not the Dalai-Lama! She is not supposed to be calm and peaceful."

"I'm just looking at it from a purely aesthetic perspective. You asked me to be honest. Maybe you should skip the photo idea..."

"I want that one!" my four year old pipes up, making a lunge for the photocopy. But it could be only because she wants to colour the photoshopped picture, and knows she isn't allowed to color the one still attached to the book.

My teenage daughter looked at both pictures for a millisecond, (deep thinking for a teenager) before choosing the original Raine.

"She looks more intelligent and real in that picture…I don't know what you did, but her face looks wrong in the other one."

I shot my partner a glare, and handed the Botoxed Raine to my 4 year-old for color-alterations.

I glanced back into the mirror, deepening my crease to the point of pain, and then back again. I'm going to have a big one. I've earned every inch of it.

In the background, my youngest daughter is concentrating on her portrait; Kathleen's placid expression is a riot of color. I think she would approve. Between my four-year-old daughter's concentrated brows, just the faintest hint of a shadow, where she will hopefully one day sport her brow cleavage unadorned, and with pride.

Amanda Euringer is a writer in Vancouver.

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