Saturday, January 9, 2010

To Botox or not to Botox?

Today, Hollywood’s most hidden vice isn’t drug abuse—it’s Botox. Practically every week, the tabs have a story on how some star’s admitted going to rehab to kick one substance or another, but you ever see an actress admitting her addiction to Botox. Hardly any of them will admit to ever using it at all, even if their faces haven’t moved in five years.

One would think that having an expressive face would be a major asset for an actress, and it the past that was true. But those expressions of emotion have a nasty habit of carving minute crevices into your face, and over time—like between ages 20 and 50—those little lines have a way of adding up.

For decades, the only option for getting rid of those pesky signs of age was drastic, expensive, invasive plastic surgery requiring weeks of recovery. But in the last few years, medical science has developed newer, sneakier ways to hide the ravages of age. The most popular is Botox, which was approved by the FDA in 2002.

What exactly is Botox? According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons®, “The cosmetic form of botulinum toxin, often referred to by its product name BOTOX®, is a popular non-surgical injection that temporarily reduces or eliminates frown lines, forehead creases, crows feet near the eyes and thick bands in the neck. The toxin blocks the nerve impulses, temporarily paralyzing the muscles that cause wrinkles while giving the skin a smoother, more refreshed appearance.”

Sounds like a less painful alternative to going under the knife, right? But the long-term results being seen on some faces are, well, not pretty. Fleetwood Mac’s 60-year-old Stevie Nix told WWD, “I had Botox and I hated it. For four long months, I looked like a different person. It almost brought down the whole production of the last tour. It was so bad, I would look into the mirror and burst into tears.

“Botox is becoming the new face of beauty and it’s unfortunate because it makes everybody look like Satan’s children. Everybody has pointed eyebrows. Everybody looks related. All the Desperate Housewives look like sisters. If you’re an unattractive girl who’s trying to be beautiful with Botox, forget it. If you are a beautiful girl who’s trying to be beautiful with Botox, you will look like you’re angry all the time. You’d have to tie me down to get me to do it again.”

Leave it to a rocker chick to tell it like it is. But for every Stevie who says “no” to Botox, there are dozens of actresses as young as 30 have made it part of their regular beauty routine, like getting facials or having your roots touched up. Some of them even admit it—just a little, though. Just like nobody’s going to admit to slugging down a quart of Jack every day, at least not as long as they’re still slugging it, no actress will own up to everything she’s using or how often she’s using it.

Most of the actresses who have owned up to going under the needle are TV stars. 36 year-old former 90210 actress Jennie Garth admitted to People that she used Botox, “in the slightest amount. I don’t want my face to change.” 36-year-old former Playmate Jenny McCarthy told the mag a similar tale, saying, “I believe in just a little bit. It allows you to keep that mobility in your face. It’s a great little secret.” TV series actresses Brooke Shields, Courteney Cox Arquette and Vanessa Williams have also revealed they imbibe—just a little.

So, is the Botox stigma a part of the past? In her article "Botox Confessions" for People magazine, Charlotte Triggs states, “Celebrity doctors in Los Angeles and New York City estimate that, based on their experience, as many as 75 percent of stars over the age of 35 get injected.”

So what’s the cumulative effect of all this face freezing on Hollywood? In his article for the UK Independent titled “Botox is destroying Hollywood stars’ ability to act,” award-winning journalist and playwright Johann Hari observed, “…This Botox-bind leaves actresses who are hitting the Hollywood-elderly of 40 in a cruel position. If they refuse to have the face done, they can’t get cast. But if they have the face done, they can’t act. They are trapped by our creepy desire to have any sign of ageing banished from our sight lines, even on the cinema screen.

“Alfred Hitchcock once said, ‘The greatest special effect is a close-up of the human face.’ Botox has stripped this effect from the movies – and left our films frozen.”

Rachael Lloyd discusses “Botox backlash” in her article “Botox-bingers” for the UK Daily Mail. “A-list stars such as Meg Ryan and Priscilla Presley have suspiciously crease-free faces. And, let’s not even go there with the likes of the ghoulish-looking Cher, Joan Rivers and Dolly Parton.

“Facial features which were once plump and yes - even a touch lined in some cases - appear too taut, too ironed and too hard. ‘People stare at images and footage of some A-listers for all the wrong reasons,’ says LA-based casting agent Alecia Whitby. ‘They have unwittingly given themselves a rather eerie, waxwork look with unusually smooth foreheads and skin around the eyes that barely creases when they smile. ‘The more obvious Botox addicts look like something out of a horror movie - their faces frozen in time.’”

OK, too much Botox can make you look like a freak, but the alternative is looking your age. Is it any surprise three out of four actresses choose to go for the Botox?

There is one A-lister whose Botox abuse is so obvious that she deserves her own chapter, but she’s been dissed so often on the subject, I’ll keep it short. Meet the Botox Queen of Denial—Nicole Kidman.

When Kidman first caught the attention of U.S. film audiences about 20 years ago, she was an adorable redhead with freckles and a charmingly natural charm. Now she’s a smooth-skinned, smooth-haired blonde whose features bear little resemblance to the ones she was born with. More alarmingly, her face is as immobile as a wax dummy. Kidman must think her new look is ravishingly lovely, because she keeps doing it, last year adding a trout pout to her already unnatural beauty.

The most bizarre part of Kidman’s obvious fondness for having things pumped into her face is the way she denies doing any of it. When an interviewer for Marie Claire magazine asked the actress about her use of Botox, she replied, “No, anybody can do anything to themselves, their bodies. I have no judgment on it. I personally believe in physical health because of the way I was raised. I can’t go in the sun; I’m fair skinned. That was a nightmare when I was a kid, but it has some benefits now. It’s that simple. I still had one skin cancer on my leg, because I put my legs in the sun.”

Not surprisingly, quite a few have trouble believing Kidman’s denials. Reality star Sharon Osbourne slammed actresses who deny Botox use on the E! Network talk show "Chelsea Lately." ”Oh my God, those liars, I hate them, those bitches. They go, ‘Oh no, I wouldn’t do anything,’ meanwhile, they’re eyebrows are here. [gestures forehead Nicole Kidman’s forehead looks like a fucking flatscreen TV - how big is that forehead?”

Also less than charitable was 65-year-old former Bond girl Britt Ekland, who said of Kidman, “It’s fatal when actresses use Botox. I remember seeing Cold Mountain, and it really looked to me like Nicole Kidman had been using it. Her face was neither sad nor glad - nor anything, she was just like a painted doll. I thought: ‘Why would she do that?’”

Dr. Martin Braun, who presides over the biggest Botox clinic in Canada, was quoted by the UK Daily Mail on Kidman, “She looks like a bat with too much of an (outer) brow lift. The middle of the brow’s been dropped. She’s crying when she accepts her Oscar, but nothing is moving.

“That’s really doing nothing to help our job because we’ve got women coming to us saying: ‘That’s what we don’t want to look like.’”

Meow! Kidman did seem to take a break from the needle while pregnant with daughter Sunday Rose, born in July 2008. Reviews of the results were generally positive. Plastic surgeon Tony Youn blogged, “Could it be that she had to quit Botox while she is pregnant? I think so. Botox injections can give a person what I call the ‘Botox brow.’ It is an overarching of the eyebrows that can give a somewhat sinister look. Botox does tend to wear off after 3-4 months, and [a recent photo] may be what Nicole looks like au naturel.”

Alas, the natural look didn’t last long, and Kidman’s post-baby appearances to promote her film Australia showed the usual immobile forehead, plus obviously fuller lips. Restylane, anyone?

So has this quest for eternal youth allowed Kidman to stay at the top of her A-list game? Not really, since her last few films have bombed, including the big-budget epic Australia. As I write this, the only roles she’s signed to do are ensemble films with all-star casts. She’s proven her acting chops in earlier roles, back when her face still moved. I really wish she’d retire to her farm in Nashville for a year or two, let her face go back to normal, and come back to compete with international actresses for the kind of parts Katherine Hepburn used to play. I can dream, can’t I?

The alternative isn’t pretty. The L.A Times blog “All the Rage” commented, “By not allowing herself to age an iota, Kidman has trapped her face in amber and the results are both frightening and depressing. It’s the Norma Desmond syndrome and we all know how that story ends.”