"Tell me everything that's wrong with your face," said the doctor handing me a mirror.
"Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" I replied.
I had accepted an invitation to attend an information session at a newly opened medical spa with the hidden agenda of looking into doing a documentary film on why it's so hard in our society to age naturally. Thinking I would see lots of women my age at this event, I was shocked to discover that more than half of my fellow attendees were women in their thirties, seemingly healthy and in the prime of their lives. Fascinated, I watched and listened as a very expensively dressed and taut-faced woman told us stories about people who had ‘transformed’ their lives by getting rid of wrinkles, extra tummy fat, acne scars, spider veins, etc. With many ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots enlarged on a screen in front of us, we were taken from one extreme to the other by this gorgeous woman who confessed that she had been in the cosmetics industry for a very long time and so had access to ‘inside’ secrets which she would share with us if we signed up for a free skin analysis with her business partner, a doctor who then joined her on the podium.
The first thing that struck me about the doctor was that he did not look like one. Living in a country that has Universal health care, I am not used to doctors being fashion plates. A labcoat or an old sweater with elbow patches instills more confidence in me than skin tight pants, a satin shirt and pointy boots.
The nattily dressed doctor brought a woman with him to the front and proceeded to tell us that all the wrinkles we could see on her face would disappear in front of our very eyes because she had agreed to a few Botox injections in our presence. My fellow attendees were all agog. The good doctor encouraged us to come around the chair where his hand-picked patient was sitting, very relaxed and smiling. She volunteered that she had never done this before but wanted to try it because she was “not happy to see so many lines “ whenever she saw herself in photos. I could relate somewhat, and even the thirty year-olds who did not yet have lines, were nodding their heads in understanding.
The doctor injected his star patient several times around the eyes and in the forehead after wiping the chosen areas with alcohol. Each time the needle went in he assured us that his patient was only feeling a slight burning but no real discomfort and the truth is that she did not wince or squirm at any time. Each vial, the doctor informed us, was reasonably priced (note he did not actually state the price!) and so this was a very affordable option for anyone “who wanted to improve her looks.”
There were now lots of questions from the audience, ranging from the cost of these injections to how much down time more invasive procedures took. The skin analysis, however, was a pre-requisite to obtain all further information and for that you had to sign up for an actual appointment with the doctor.
And that is how I found myself back in the very posh medical spa the next morning holding the doctor’s mirror up to my face. Unbeknownst to him, I had done a little background search on him before coming and had discovered that he was not a plastic surgeon, was not even a dermatologist. He was a general practitioner and the reviews he had been given by some former patients were not stellar. He had no experience or specific knowledge to give anyone a skin analysis.
"Are you a plastic surgeon?" I asked him.
"No," came the reply. "I am an emergency room doctor so if anything ever went wrong I would know exactly what to do."
"Do you have emergencies often?" I pressed.
Irritated, he gave me a stiff smile. "You have a lot of sun damage," he said, conveniently changing the subject.
"I would suggest...."
Truthfully, who among us does not want to turn the clock back now and then? I confess to having considered Botox, to even having thought about a little lift here and there. But my compromise has always been not to do anthing invasive.
As I loooked into the mirror the doctor continued to list all the work I would need done on my face if I wanted to look instantly younger. I would lose the way my face crinkles when I laugh. I would lose the furrow just above my nose. I would have plumper lips and some fat injected below my eyes. What I saw, when I looked at myself, was my life reflected back, traceable through those little lines. Summers at the beach with the kids, sleepless nights when they were sick, the ups and downs of parenting, the joy of a deep love, the unexpected heartaches of loss and disappointments, the triumph of battles won.
Who are you once you make your entire history disappear?