My 37th birthday came and went this year, but the fine lines it brought with it never left. The new wrinkles mostly set up camp on my forehead, stretching from eyebrow to eyebrow in shallow grooves, sloping slightly downward to the right. I’m sure they developed over time, but they seemed to appear suddenly, impossibly, on one specific morning. And then I never didn’t notice them again.
In my twenties and early thirties, I never thought much about Botox. If people want it, I thought, they should get it. Of course, I assumed I’d never be one of them, leaning heavily on the “black don’t crack” ethos. My mom, after all, is 60, and has a wrinkle, like, maybe on her kneecap. So when they showed up on me, I wasn’t just annoyed, I was surprised. And for the first time in my life, I considered paying to change my face. But I couldn’t stop thinking about who I’d be betraying if I did.
The Tricky Business of Needs Versus Wants
If you follow me on Instagram, then you know I have a mantra: “If you need it, take it.” I started it for National Mental Health Awareness month, referring to my need for taking antidepressants, and the expression took off. People started virtually high-fiving me by posting their own “If you need it take it” photos and videos, and it was fantastic and perfect and everything I want my social media presence to be. And in the months since, I’ve started to apply “If you need it, take it” to other parts of my life: time off, downtime, me time, to name a few.
It’s made me consider what it means to “need” something, outside of what is medically necessary. Do I need to take my meds? Some may say no, but I know I do, because they balance me chemically and allow me to live fully. Do I need to clean my house? Maybe not. But if I didn’t, a) Kiesh would move out, and b) I’d end up on Hoarders within six months and I’m not trying to have everybody in my business. But do I need Botox? It’s hard to say yes, even subjectively. But I do need to feel good about myself both mentally and physically, and liking what I see in the mirror is a component of that.
Still, something about the idea made me feel false. I’m Crystal—kooky, footloose and fancy free Crystal. Crystal who talks to people on Instagram Live in a dirty T-shirt with a head scarf on. Crystal who gets DMs from people thanking her for “being real.” Would I be betraying them by letting Dr. Wexler fill my forehead with Botox? Would I be betraying myself by giving into something that is so clearly superficial? Or how about my partner, who loves everything about my face and tells me a million times a day that I’m the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen?
I didn’t know the answers, but some part of me wanted to press on anyway. Call it conditioning or vanity or anxiety about aging, I’m sure it’s all three. I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head, so I decided to honor that persistence instead.
I hit up my resident skincare Yoda, Harling Ross, for recommendations, and she sends me Dr. Patricia Wexler (Harling hasn’t gotten Botox, she’s merely a walking skincare encyclopedia). One Google search and I know Dr. Wexler is the real damn deal—an expert in the field—which makes me nervous. Some part of me thinks getting Botox in a strip mall would make it feel less official or something, and this is not that. I make an appointment.
To my surprise, Wexler Dermatology is a proper doctor’s office, not the sprawling wellness complex I imagine it to be, which almost makes me feel worse. I ride the elevator with a very pregnant woman en route to her OBGYN and a man with a brace on his knee. The urgency of their conditions confronts me with the banality of mine. When I get to the office and am sent back to Dr. Wexler’s exam room, I look around. I wait. I twitch. I second guess, spiral, Google if you can die from Botox. Then in walks Dr. Wexler.
The Part With the Needles
Dr. Wexler has fire engine red hair, cut into a bob. She has on stacked heels and a DVF-style wrap dress and is as lovely as a person can be. My shoulders drop 10%. She asks me if I’m a fainter, which damn near makes me faint. When I say no, she looks at me like my own Italian grandmother and says, “Did you eat today? If you didn’t, I’m going to give you some OJ and crackers.” Of course I haven’t, I’m fucking nervous. She calls in her assistant and they feed me like the infant I am. (Know that I got Botox with a pile of cracker crumbs on my pants and an OJ mustache.)
As I snack, Dr. Wexler asks me why I want (need?) Botox. After I explain the reasons I’ve already explained to you, she agrees with some of my points and tells me I am a good candidate for Botox in my forehead area. I feel somewhat validated, but am mostly offended she didn’t take one look at me and scream, “You’re a perfectly symmetrical human specimen, what are you doing here?! I cannot work on you, your skin should be donated to science!”
Cut to me getting a slap of goo on my head. It’s supposed to make this process a lot less painful. The goo sets for 10 minutes. Dr. Wex (we’re friends now, I’m sure she doesn’t mind the nickname) opens the door and shouts, “Don’t look at the needles!” So of course I look directly at them, and they’re not too scary, but I close my eyes anyway and they plop two sand bag balls in my hands to squeeze during the process.
Dr. Wexler says if I hum really loudly, the needle will almost feel like acupuncture. Lies, all lies! I cannot believe my new friend Wex has deceived me so early on in our relationship. Although in her and the needles’ defense, I am a big fucking baby. Anyway, I get to humming like a damned clown and Dr. Wexler gets to making magic. It takes all of 10 minutes (less, I’m sure, had I sat still as requested). When we’re all done, Dr. Wexler tells me I’m a baby (the lie detector determines that is the truth) but that next time (next time?!) will be easier because I’ll know what to expect.
The After Party
I was surprised to learn through this whole process that Botox results are not immediate. After the appointment, my face looks exactly the same—the lines on my forehead are still there and she tells me it will take four to 14 days for the Botox to do what it does. She gives me a sweet hug, tells me to keep my head straight for four hours (!!!), and sends me on my way. I can’t say that I don’t look in every mirror or glass surface after I leave the procedure, but also can’t say that I don’t usually do this anyway. My forehead feels slightly like somebody took a flyswatter to it.
When I get home, I take another hundred looks in the mirror and notice nothing. I return to my need-vs-want conundrum and wonder if I’ve made a good decision. I decide that yes, yes I have.
Cut to two weeks later: I wake up one morning and discover my forehead is frozen like a lake in January. I try to squint, furrow, look surprised, but nothing, just a placid lake of skin and I cannot lie, I’m not mad at it. I’m half-black and half-Italian; I’ll never ever NOT be expressive, so I’m not the least bit worried about this lack of movement. But when Kiesh proposes a week later, and I’m done crying and saying yes and taking it all in while a photographer captures the moment, I think: Holy fuck! What if I look bored as all hell in my photos? But luckily the amount of tears and smiles made up for it.
A month later, the Botox has settled and my forehead is smooth and wrinkle-free—even at my most surprised. And I’m settled, too: I love it. To me, I look like myself again. And I still feel like I’ve made a good decision—not because I needed the change, but because I wanted it. I spend so much of my life doing things because I need to: showering, eating, taking meds, cleaning my house, walking my dog, going to my therapist, brushing my teeth, grocery shopping, that what I really needed, right now, was to do something I wanted. So yes, I think I’ll be hitting up my bestie Dr. Wexler every now and again. Because while I believe that “if you need it, take it,” I’ve also decided that in the right circumstance, “if you want it, do it” can be just as important.
Graphics by Dasha Faires.