“Botox,” she says with a smile.
“Now I know why your eyes look bigger.”
“Oh really? Great!”
“Where did they inject it?”
“I had my eyes and forehead done. Looks good, no?” she says running her fingers along her taut skin. “Yeah, it does,” I respond hating to admit it out loud. I can’t believe I’m actually considering Botox.
I spend the rest of lunch doing my best not to stare at the smooth skin between Marcela’s sculpted eyebrows, around the corners of her eyes, and across her forehead. It makes me think of the lines on my face; I’m almost ten years her junior and have more creases than she does. I want to think it doesn’t matter but as I approach my fortieth birthday and live in the image-conscious city of Buenos Aires, I find myself hyper-aware of my changing face and body, ultimately comparing myself to women like Marcela.
I marvel at how great she looks. Her five-foot frame is flawless. She regularly runs marathons. She never skips a session at the gym. She’s the mother of three grown children. She also has breast implants. Prior to her surgery, I questioned why she wanted them.
“But you have a gorgeous figure and your breasts are perfectly proportionate for your body.”
“I don’t think so. I think I would look so much better with larger breasts.” I stifle myself from disagreeing again and shift the focus.
“Isn’t getting surgeries a little addictive, kind of like getting tattoos?” I tread lightly.
“No, no, no,” she says shaking her head. “This is definitely the only one, no more after this. I just know that with a bigger bust would feel that much better about myself. Actually, I’m doing it more for how I feel inside than how I look on the outside.”
Marcela is the prototype for the ideal woman in Buenos Aires: Petite, slim, large breasts, and equally as important, a firm, plump, and curvy ass. To make sure I don’t forget what this ideal woman looks like billboards and storefronts offer a steady stream of half-naked women, arching and pouting, showing the world who, or rather what, a woman is. Magazine stands, often referred as meat markets by my boyfriend, are identifiable from at least half a block by their uniform color of flesh. Window-shopping allows me to compare the various trends in lingerie via posters of more almost-naked, skinny-legged, flat-stomached, and big-busted women. Still, other window displays prompt me to mull over the effectiveness of a pair of padded panties proudly exhibited on a half-torso, claiming to be push-up underwear. And of course, I don’t even have to leave my apartment to see what standards Argentine women are told to live up to. I just flick on one of the local channels. Be it a talk show, a comedy, a game show, or a soap opera there’s bound to be tits and ass occupying much of the screen.
The combination of being bombarded by apparent female physical perfection and receiving early condolences for The Big Four-Oh has led me to the mirror. My breasts have never been perky but that doesn’t stop me from pulling up the skin above them toward my shoulders contemplating how much life would change with my boobs at attention. I check out my side profile and perform a similar lifting of my backside, wondering if there’s such a thing as a butt lift. I notice that I am developing the exact same wrinkles as my 88-year-old grandmother. Examination in the magnifying mirror tells me I’ve got lines that can only be erased by modern medicine. Flattening out the crease between my eyebrows, I face up to the fact that vitamin E cream just doesn’t cut it anymore.
“What would you think if I got Botox?” I ask my boyfriend Facundo.
“I’m not seriously considering it, I’m just thinking about it.”
“Leave your wrinkles alone, stay natural. They’re part of you. Don’t get Botox. I love you as you are. So should you.”
As much as I want my partner’s declaration of love to be enough, it isn’t. I know it needs to come from me. I can’t help but think how I reject the idea of being a size zero. It’s been years since I’ve owned a scale. Clothes that don’t fit me anymore promptly get donated. I’m proud to say I don’t diet. Why am I even considering this? I search for clarity and investigate where some of my other female friends stand. One, a 41-year-old American flight attendant, comes to Buenos Aires every few months, not only to visit me but also to get her Botox topped up. Another, a 35-year-old Brit living in Dubai, tells me that Botox is a must and adds that if I want any information about getting a lip enhancement to come to her. The attached photo confirms she’s looks fabulous. Yet another, a 36-year-old Canadian, says she’ll start Botox treatments when she turns 40. All three tell me about other friends and friends of friends who rave about the work they’ve had done. It can’t hurt to make an appointment – just to get more information. I decide to ask Marcela where she goes for Botox injections.
The next time we meet she tells me she went under the knife again – definitely her last time.
“What did you get done?” I ask. She lifts her skirt to reveal blood-soaked bandages wrapped around her upper thigh.
“Oh my God! What happened?”
“I went for liposuction to get rid of the flab in my inner thigh but instead I got this.” She pulls the bandage off revealing severe burns. “The doctor did tell me it was one of the risks.” I don’t ask where she gets her Botox injections.
Soon after our meeting, I receive a call from an old friend that I had lost contact with. Two years ago, doctors removed his cancerous thyroid gland. Although he is healthy today, he struggles with another issue.
“I don’t feel like a whole person anymore.”
“But you’re still the same person, that hasn’t changed.”
“I know but I just feel less.”
“Rick, it’s only physical. As long as your body functions properly that’s all you need to worry about. Really, when you think about it our bodies are just containers that carry us around.” I feel like a hypocrite. Why does my container need Botox?
For days after our conversation, I’m stumped as to why I think I need to paralyze my facial muscles in the name of “beauty.” I take a closer look at the women around me. Gabriela gave herself a perpetual pout for her thirtieth birthday making it a challenge to maintain eye contact with her. Fifty-something Silvia has two distinct, lumpy scars on either side of her mouth from botched collagen injections. Marisa, 42, got the three-for-one special: boobs, liposuction, and tummy tuck. She couldn’t lift her two-year-old daughter for over a month. I resolve to make peace with my sagging breasts and deepening wrinkles.
A few weeks later my boyfriend and I attend a party. Late in the evening, we stand close to each other but talking to different people. The 22-year old I’m chatting with asks me my age.
“You’re 39?” her eyes spread wide.
“Yes, 39,” I smile politely.
“You definitely look younger than your age but your face is … is … muy marcada.”
“My face is very marked?” I laugh back.
Facundo leans in, “I like her wrinkles.”
I’m learning to like them too.
Originally published January, 2009.