In our culture, looking odd appears preferable to looking old
Nicole Kidman was photographed at Cannes recently with an oddly swollen face, prompting lots of articles pondering on her looks. But Nicole wasn't an anomaly on a red carpet of static, impassive faces. Film screens with their unforgiving, cruel close-ups send actors, young and old, into the arms of Botox in a sad indictment of our wrinkle-fearing, ageist times.
No doubt the pressure on female stars to try to look young is massive but this filters down to regular women too. A certain airbrushed youthfulness is now the norm and no one will be surprised that the number of Irish women having cosmetic procedures continues to rise.
Botox has been on a mission to erase what we call wrinkles, but cosmetic companies call lines, from every rich person's face for 12 years now. Along the way, it's made some friends and frenemies. Some people love the stuff despite the fact that it's made out of purified botulinum toxin and causes emotional authenticity to disappear as rapidly as fine lines. No official figures exist but it's estimated that around 12,000 Irish women now freeze their faces every year and the revelation that Gadaffi used to use a bit of Botox didn't damage business at all.
Danielle Meagher, Ireland's self-styled Doctor Botox, runs an "anti-ageing clinic" called DermaFACE, administering Botox injections for €300 upwards and by all accounts her business is thriving with stuffed waiting lists.
But isn't it a little bit scary that we inhabit a world where we're told that we need to deactivate our facial expressions in an attempt to look younger? What chance do our poor faces have when up against the dual evils of the advertising we consume and low self-esteem? So we reach for poison, needles and knives or whatever might make us feel better about our appearance, ignoring the risks and cost in this desperate attempt to get closer to some unattainable ideal.
The most shocking thing is the normalisation of it all. Last Valentine's Day, a survey (admittedly one commissioned by a Cosmetic Surgery Advice Group) found that 78pc of women wanted a cosmetic procedure over flowers. The research also found that just 7pc of women would be "slightly offended" if their partner offered them a Botox jab as a Valentine's gift. The 'Good Surgeon Guide' asked us "Why give flowers that wither when you can give Botox to keep me fresh?"
It's all down to the notion that a wrinkle is a flaw and the idea that beauty can only be found in the young. But if you look closer then you will know that no one ever looks younger after Botox. Everyone just looks mildly surprised, with a face that looks like a frozen corpse's. But in a culture that's terrified of and actually criticises women for daring to age, looking odd is increasingly becoming preferable to looking old.
University of Toronto researchers recently asked people what they thought of women who use various anti-ageing techniques, including skin creams, facelifts and injectables.
They found that compared to women who only use creams, people see Botox users as narcissistic and cold. After reading descriptions of the women and how they handle the ageing process, participants were asked to judge their character and they "felt more warmth" toward the women who didn't use Botox. This is the irony.
It's a very damaging and ugly notion that treatments like Botox and plastic surgery are acceptable if they make us feel acceptable.
Self-acceptance doesn't lie at the bottom of a surgical syringe and we have to stop falling for beauty procedures and despair.
If, as Germaine Greer wrote, "a woman's body is the battlefield on which she fights for liberation", we would be so much better off accepting the fact that society is uncomfortable with women ageing and will criticise older us no matter what we do about it.
Yes, we grow older. We develop crow's feet and wrinkles. Spiky little hairs turn up on our chins. We can blame the cosmetic surgery industry, the fashion industry, the film industry or the patriarchy.
But the only sensible course of action is to start working on not caring at all.