When it comes to playing on female fears, Lucky magazine is no villain. Charmingly monomaniacal, Lucky has only shopping on its mind: There are no get-a-man articles, no anti-anorexia essays subtly overflowing with diet tips. The publication is like a vivacious but not especially introspective girlfriend—willing to tell you your pants don’t fit but uninterested (for better or worse) in bonding over body image. Perhaps this is in part because Lucky seems to skew a little younger than other women’s magazines: Judging from the sometimes unwearably cute clothing featured in its pages, its ideal reader seems old enough to have a hundred extra bucks in her pocket to blow on a pair of shoes, but young enough to feel blissful confidence in her own body.
Which is what makes Lucky’s June treatment column—on Botox, the botulism-based wrinkle-injection that freezes facial muscles—so surprising. Of course, there’s nothing new about a women’s magazine spotlighting cosmetic surgery. But in the past 20 years these articles have morphed as radically as a trophy wife’s face, going from cautionary tales to pure uncut service features. Twenty years back, face-lift accounts came with warning tags—It’s vain! It’s risky! It’s expensive! Then there were the long “on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand” years: a thousand rueful personal essays on liposuction that mixed justification with self-doubt.
Botox’s presence in a shopping magazine for twentysomethings is an eerie indicator that the treatment is crossing from option to good-grooming requirement. After all, only three years ago the treatment itself was a punchline—now, with FDA approval, it’s a face treat. The giveaway phrase isn’t in the article itself (a fluffy but straightforward summary of where-to-get-it info), it’s the sidebar, which murmurs helpfully: “If you’re NOT READY for Botox, try these creams.” Ruh-roh.
Lucky’s editor, Kim France, has used Botox herself (for migraines), and she defends its placement as a beauty treatment. “I was shocked when our beauty editor talked about Botox as a matter of course,” she admits. “It struck me as a whole big scary thing. But then I got used to it: because it’s temporary, because it’s safe.” Featuring Botox, France argues, isn’t the same as shilling face-lifts or breast implants—”It’s a totally different animal.” But she does acknowledge that the treatment might be “one more bar to place for woman” seeking to meet basic standards of attractiveness: In addition to being thin and hairless, youthful hotties must flaunt a forehead taut as a corset. And while France loved the effects, it also made her rather hyper-aware of the landscape of Manhattan faces around her. “You know, suddenly you find yourself looking at foreheads and seeing how many don’t move. And you start to realize: This is Botox Nation.”
It’s hard to critique any beauty trend without coming off like a bluestocking: “Ladies, wipe off that crimson whorepaint!” But while no one reads fashion mags for earnest edification, they are—in a deep and genuine way—women’s culture. So, it seems worth raising a red flag when a beauty treatment intended to reverse the signs of aging is recommended to those who have not yet begun to sag. If Botox is pretty much the gateway drug of cosmetic surgery—as Lucky put it, “somewhere between a two week spa vacation and a full face-lift”—Lucky’s article is also a kind of crossover point. It symbolizes the moment when a normal, ever-so-slightly creased 30-year-old forehead threatens to become the equivalent of a run in a stocking, something anyone with a sense of style would tuck away.
It’s enough to deepen that checkmark right between the eyes.