News & Opinion » Columns

The XX files

Turn that frown upside down


I sauntered into the plastic-surgery palace on East Avenue cocky and self-assured. I was attending the Botox lecture not as a woman desperate to turn back the hands of time, but as a strong believer in inner beauty. I was on a fact-finding mission --- why would anyone submit to cosmetic procedures? What kind of doctor would make a living "mutilating" women, to use a phrase from my first-wave feminist parents? I was ready to hear insulting buzzwords and coded sexist comments.

            But nothing struck me as objectionable. At least not at first.

            The surgeon wasn't a monster; he wasn't even patronizing. He started the evening's talk with slides of the building we were in, the Lindsay House, a historic mansion that he and his partner renovated and expanded to accommodate their practice.

            Watching the before-and-after photos of hand-carved wall panels and leaded glass windows lulled me into my old art-history-student mode. The doctors had approached the building as a work of art, sparing no expense in performing architectural cosmetic surgery to restore a youthful look to this aging beauty.

            When the before-and-after faces of female patients started to flash on the screen, my guard was down. We were looking at a smattering of success stories --- women who had had facelifts, necklifts, browlifts, dermabrasion, and chemical peels.

            The "after" photos looked great. These women had shed years off their faces. My sensors started twitching. Oh no! I was falling prey to their mind control! Like a prisoner fighting to stay sane by repeating the multiplication tables, in my mind I replayed gory snippets of cosmetic surgery I had seen on cable TV.

            As my good feminist heart drummed a steady beat --- inner beauty, inner beauty --- my eyes, crinkly as they are with crows' feet when I smile, were transfixed.

            If you think of your face as a work of art --- and for most of us that's a stretch to begin with --- you won't have a hard time making the leap from using sunblock (conservation) to having cosmetic surgery (restoration). It's all just a matter of preserving the objet.

            When the lecture finally turned to Botox, I had a hard time dismissing it. Compared to surgery, Botox seemed easy. Noninvasive. Invisible. A few drops injected into your forehead can remove the horizontal lines for up to four months. Another dose melts away that vertical crease between your eyebrows. It's not so bad, after all. So what if it's botulism? If it erases my crows' feet...

            I came to my senses when a young Botox adherent stepped forward to testify. She gazed out at the audience and wrinkled her nose a bit.

            "Look," she said, "I can't get mad. I'm trying to, but I can't."

            Huh? She can't get mad? The doctor was beaming. "The Botox paralyzes the muscles." He said. "No frown lines!" The young woman's forehead and brow formed a serene sea.

            Now, getting mad is my favorite thing --- after sex and chocolate. My grimace is feared throughout the land, or, at least, throughout my home where my husband and sons cower at the mere thought of invoking my ire.

            But that's not the point, of course. If I had Botox injections, I would still be able to get mad. You just wouldn't be able to see it. I would become one of the shiny, happy people: women who have erased all traces of troubled --- and troubling --- emotions from their faces.

            Botox must be a dream come true for those guys who are always telling women to smile, not to mention to everyone else who finds female expression intimidating.

            In fact, why stop here? Bring on the burkas!

But who am I to talk? On some level, I buy into this whole cosmetic improvement thing as much as the next gal. I spend a fortune on makeup and lotions. I fret when I find a gray hair. And I slog through my yoga routine not because I enjoy it but because I want to appear fit.

            With all the invisible fixes available --- Botox's invisible wrinkles, hair dye's invisible grays --- it's hard to know where to draw the line. As long as it's not too invasive or obvious, why not?

            I'm sporting Invisalign braces as we speak and you can't even tell, can you? They're completely clear plastic molds of my teeth that fit over them and blend right in. They cost a little more, but at least my lips don't snag on protruding metal brackets and my husband can't call me "tinsel teeth."

            As insidious as it is, the trend toward invisible solutions to life's little cosmetic problems is growing. My actress friend got LASIK --- invisible glasses. My Southern Belle friend got liposuction --- invisible fat. My neighbors installed an electronic fence to contain their lunging dog --- invisible obedience training.

            Even women's undergarments have gone underground. Once outerwear staples --- in the Like A Virgin/Madonna era --- they've been reduced to clear plastic bra straps and floss-like panties. Like everyone else, I first balked at the idea of thongs. But then my pantylines got the better of me and I switched to thongs, for better or worse.

            Like the invisible fence that gives me an uninterrupted view of my neighbor's vast expanse of grass, my thong gives my neighbor an uninterrupted view of my vast expanse of ass.

When Rochester was named third most healthy city for men in a recent issue of Men's Health, nothing so crude as pantylines or thongs was mentioned. In fact, the Rochester section of the article was strangely devoid of any mention of sex or sexuality. I wonder what that means.

            The piece touted the low colon cancer and stroke rate among males as well as the easy commute. Ho-hum. For entertainment, we got high marks for all the golf courses and places to fish. ZZzzz. If that's what makes a city great for men to live in, no wonder civilization is going to hell in a handbasket.

            Not that anyone asked, but how would Rochester rate as a city from a woman's perspective? If we take our criteria from a quick gander at the women's magazines, we find women's lives revolve around how we look, what we weigh, and men, men, men!

            OK, so our petty concerns are not much better than men's golf lust and fish fancying. Nonetheless, Rochester is a pretty good city for women based on those criteria. We've got a glut of hair and beauty salons --- 14 along a one-mile stretch of Monroe Avenue, for example. Our restaurants are on board with the whole "tastings" menu trend --- "Oh, I just eat like a bird," we say, secretly planning to devour the Ben & Jerry's back at home.

            And, top honors in the boy-watching category goes to the one-way mirror in the women's lounge at the new nightclub Rain. After centuries of enduring the male gaze, women can sit in comfort and stare at men for a change.

            How does it feel, boys? It's uncomfortable, isn't it? Feeling self-conscious about that paunch? Those wrinkles? I know a great cosmetic surgeon...