What an Episode of Bad Botox Taught Me About Bodily Acceptance

It was 2018, and I was twenty eight, lying there in a darkened hotel room, paying a backstreet Botox doctor in cash to knock out the wrinkles on my forehead. Two weeks later this botch-job would set in, and my flat mate would look at me with worry. 

“Are you okay?” they asked. 

“Yes, why?” I replied. 

“You just look so… sad?”

I looked at my face in the mirror, my right eyelid drooped slightly and my forehead looked oddly like sliced cheese, I had done what only 85-year-old Upper East Side women are supposed to do and I’d botched my face. For weeks following I’d be told I looked “kinda gormless,” “unwell,” “very very shiny?”

And yet I didn’t feel ugly like I had in the past, despite my face looking completely different to how it should. And that’s because something like Botox, or any intervention against ugliness, or aging, or weight gain—whatever you wish to call it—is seen as more morally commendable than accepting your body as it is. 

For much of my life, I’ve been unable to put my finger on what exactly it feels like to feel ugly. But I’ve also noticed that I have been congratulated when I’m doing something to change my appearance toward a more accepted beauty standard. Whether it was being put on a strict diet by my doctor at fourteen and being applauded by a group of women at Weight Watchers every week when I lost a pound, or whether it was the remark a friend’s mum made at a wedding when she told me she was so glad I started being good to my skin. The last time she saw me, she said, I was “looking unwell.”

Attempting to change one’s own appearance is so often falsely placed on a kind of morality scale. And my feelings of ugliness, when I was perhaps less enlightened about the systems at play which police unruly bodies, have often been most vivid when I do something to my body that I have been told is “bad.” Like smoking, eating fast food, drinking too much, skipping exercise. And so I’ve made strange choices in the name of this false goodness: wild diets, impossible gym routines, binging and purging, backstreet Botox. 

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