The XX Factor

Is Cosmetic “Enhancement” De Rigeur in Your Circle?

Until I read Dominique Browning’s piece in the NYT yesterday, I’d never really considered the case for laugh lines. Mine are a new development, and I’m still a little surprised to see them when I look in the mirror. But I don’t have any plans to do anything about them, and I don’t expect to make those plans. I wouldn’t even know where to begin making those plans. There’s no question in my mind about one thing: I don’t belong in the “certain circles” wherein, as Browning writes , it is ” expected of women and men to avail themselves of these age-deniers . If you chose not to partake of the benefits of needle and knife, you are judged to be making a statement.” The only statement I’ll be making if I (as I expect to) age without Botox, fillers, or the knife is “I left New York, mentally and physically, a long time ago.”

Still, I do have a question. How large are those circles? If you’ve left New York or L.A., or just never went at all, do the “age-deniers” among your friends and acquaintances really outnumber those “taking a position against the current standards of beauty”? I can imagine that Browning’s circle (she is a former magazine editor) includes far more people who are both willing and able to go to extremes to avoid the appearance of aging than mine does, but I don’t think the group of granola-eating, bike-riding, free-range former yuppies that populates my particular small town is any more reflective of the general population than a cross-section of the average Manhattan cocktail party. So how many Americans really are freezing their brows and puffing up their cheeks? You know the answer is not really that many: 2.2 million Botox injections in 2009 out of an adult population of about 230 million.

But if not that many people are Botoxing their way back to beauty yet, millions want to. A 2007 study found 71 percent of women (and one-third of men) expressed some interest in cosmetic surgery . Browning’s circle, along with the celebrities and television journalists she notes who can now discuss all sorts of disturbing issues without revealing the slightest sign of concern or dismay, is clearly far more influential than mine. Is Browning right to fear that we’re losing any appreciation we ever had for our mothers’ grey hair or our fathers’ wrinkled foreheads, and that those who can afford it will determinedly and collectively avoid the appearance of aging while those who can’t look on with wrinkled envy? It doesn’t look that way from here, but I’m starting to feel like I’m not looking in the right direction.