My frown, and the lines it birthed—a solid “11” between my strong brows, which mostly survived ’90s super tweezing—has never bothered me much. In fact, I love it. It contributes to my resting bitch face, which is something I’m proud to have. There’s no mistaking when I frown: large eyes narrow to produce a more hawk-like gaze that expresses everything from slight confusion to innate rage.
What did start to bother me were the horizontal lines across my forehead. They had shown traces since I was a teenager and finally decided to become permanent tenants of my face last year. I had just moved across the country for a job that turned out to be a real-life Mean Girls meets Hunger Games situation (in which I was Janis Ian and one of the children who immediately dies, respectively).
After spending too much of my free time in my unfurnished apartment, eating on the floor and being sad—with my face seemingly matching my beaten-down soul—I decided Botox could be the answer to my loneliness and toxic workplace-based depression. If I looked pretty, maybe I’d start feeling that way! I’ve known more than a few women who get Botox regularly, and while their infant-chub-smooth skin is sometimes distracting in a way that’s hard to place, it’s also flawless and enviable.
I went into the medi spa office intending to get only my forehead injected. Even in my delicate state, my frown lines were too precious to part with. But the nurse told me that the muscles behind the frown lines belong to the same group as the upper forehead, and they all had to be ’toxed together “or it will look weird.” When a woman standing over you while holding a needle filled with a lethally toxic substance tells you that you should do something, you let her do it.
I got about 20 units and the Botox took about a week to settle. As soon as it did, I looked exactly the same… except that my forehead was smooth and I couldn’t frown to save my life. Since frowning is one of my signature face moves, this was distressing. I was feeling a frown on the inside, but my face reflected undisturbed serenity. When I narrowed my eyes, it looked like I was straining to see something far away instead of expressing displeasure.
As much as I appreciated a line-less forehead, I hated that Botox took away my ability to facially express how I was feeling. In between Googling “how to make Botox fade away” and wishing I could turn back the clock (as in, go back in time and not get Botox), I started to get angry about the injectable’s popularity. Putting aside the fact that people can and should do whatever they want with their bodies, the Botox craze started to seem like just another way our society pressures women to appear pleased—and pleasing—at all times. Since nothing that I was going through in my inner world was visible externally, I began to feel a little bit dead inside.
Some studies, like one conducted by German and Swiss researches a few years ago, indicate that Botox shots in the glabellar region (a.k.a. frown line central between one’s brows) can actually help lift major depression in some people, supporting the concept that facial musculature can both regulate and express mood. However, the opposite has been proven true, too, by my experience and also by *actual science*.
A 2016 study conducted by researchers at the University of Trieste, as well as a 2011 study from USC and Duke University, conclude that not only does Botox take away our ability to make certain expressions, but it also inhibits our reading of other people’s emotions, which can affect our ability to empathize. This is because our proprioceptive feedback—the process that helps us understand other people’s emotions by imitating them—is blocked.
It’s hard to say if the world saw me differently with a frozen forehead. The main issue was I saw myself as trapped in a Botox cage of emotion. Frustrated by my inability to express feelings, I retreated even more into isolation from the people around me. After about three months, rudimentary motion returned to my forehead region, and with it, the joy of frowning. The ability to furrow my brow didn’t make that bad job better, but quitting it, which I did a few months later, certainly made my life better.
Suffice it to say, I haven’t gotten Botox again, and I don’t plan to. I now aim to see my changing face as a gift for being on the planet a little longer. Legendary Italian actress Anna Magnani famously said, “please don’t retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them.” I wish I’d learned that quote sooner.