My friend Emily was the first of our group of girlfriends to have Botox. She was 30, it was a few weeks before her wedding and she wanted to iron out the little vertical lines that creased at the top of her nose, between her eyebrows, when she frowned.
She didn’t tell us until after her wedding. Some were shocked, others were fascinated. We all squinted at Em’s face, trying to spot the difference. It reminded me of being a teenager again, of the moment when people start having sex. You scrutinise your friends and try to work out if they look different. You wonder what it feels like. That was three years ago, when I knew almost nothing about Botox apart from the fact it was poison (real name Botulinum toxin), and the Kardashians were into it.
I wasn’t, not least because it was expensive – a few hundred quid for something toxic to be injected into my face with effects that only lasted a few months? Lol, no thanks. Still, when your friends embrace something new, it’s hard not to feel a little bit of pressure to follow suit – be that the desk mate who ditches pub night for early-morning marathon training, the school-gate mum who’s only getting blonder, not greyer, or, yes, the old pal who’s dabbling with cosmetic treatments. But, as with many decisions in life, each to their own, right?
And then I hit 31 and – almost overnight – became bothered by the hairline grooves that spanned my forehead and the lines that radiated outwards from the corners of my eyes towards my temples. I pulled weird faces in the mirror to inspect the lines more closely, I took close-up selfies and winced at the wrinkles. I wasn’t sure why I’d become so suddenly worried about it. The subliminal power of the anti-ageing industry? The fear that I was becoming an old crone when everybody around me seemed to be getting suspiciously younger? A niggling worry about my lines showing up on Instagram?
I worked for Tatler at the time and quietly voiced my fears to the magazine’s beauty director, who nudged me towards a clinic in Chelsea. There, a nice woman with a reassuring ‘Dr’ in front of her name took photos of my face on an iPad to show me what she could do. I nodded and, within half an hour, I’d had a few millimetres of Botox jabbed into my forehead and around the outer corners of my eyes.
Just like that, I’d been initiated. I’d gone from one side of the ‘Botox Gap’ to the other. And although part of me felt weak for succumbing to such vanity, more of me was pleased with the results. It was as if I’d used a real-life airbrushing app on my face. I was so chuffed that I told (mostly) everyone I’d had it – girlfriends, colleagues, family. The only person I didn’t tell was the man I’d started seeing. Like tweezing my bikini line or plucking the black hair from the mole underneath my chin, it was an intimate grooming detail I reckoned he didn’t need to know.
I’m now 33 and around a third of my girlfriends have had Botox – or at least a third of them have admitted to it. In America, the number of women aged between 19 and 34 who’ve had it has leapt 41% since 2011 and, although there are no comparable British statistics, experts say we’re not far behind. Dr Maryam Zamani, one of London’s top aesthetic doctors, says that in recent years she’s definitely seen more 30-something women having it, and cites ‘the increased normalisation of tweakments’ – although she adds that the average age of her clients remains the mid-30s onwards.
Since my first time, I’ve always been open about it. I hate the idea of pretending that I’m simply blessed with good genes. The pressure on women to look as youthful as an 11-year-old is great enough already – I don’t want to lie to others to make them feel insecure about their skin. Equally, I understand that some don’t want to admit to having any ‘work’ done. Others still are repulsed at the thought of paralysing their facial muscles, at the narcissism, at the attempt to stave off a process that will – eventually – happen to us all. And if it’s not for you, then all power to you.
In a café recently, I sat with some of my girlfriends as we frowned at one another to show our lines up, waggling index fingers at our faces. If I’d been sitting across the room, I’d have laughed, knowing absolutely what we were discussing. We’re more open about procedures like this as a society these days, but the Botox Gap also narrows as you get older and more mates have it. The names of decent practitioners are traded like drug dealers so nobody looks too Betty Boop – eyebrows so high it’s as if they’re trying to leap off your head. ‘I’ve got a brilliant new guy who does it from a basement in Mayfair,’ whispered my friend Alice (still, if you are considering doing it for the first time, I’d strongly advise seeking out a reputable doctor, who comes with glowing recommendations).
What about lying to your other halves, though? Ah, yeah, that’s trickier. I haven’t had Botox for over a year now, partly because I’m more relaxed about getting older, but also because the last time I was injected, it bruised the outside of my left eye. The purple stain refused to fade for two weeks and I successfully hid it from my boyfriend for a few days before he spotted it one evening as I did my make-up. ‘Babe, what’s that on your face?’ he asked. ‘Oh, I just had a tiny little thing done,’ I said vaguely, trying to sound as casual as if I’d just been to the dentist. He was cross, which made me cross. His argument was that Botox is a cosmetic procedure that we should discuss as a couple. Mine was that if I hadn’t bruised, he wouldn’t have noticed I’d had anything done at all.
The majority of my mates also keep schtum to their partners (‘I have a number of patients who do injectables when their other half is away,’ says Dr Zamani). My friend Emily, though, is now so relaxed about the process that she recently had a woman called Daniella over to her house one evening to pep up her forehead, shortly before she cooked supper for her husband Dave and me.
‘Em, I’m really not sure about you doing this in the kitchen,’ said Dave, as Daniella unpacked her Botox kit on their kitchen island and he uncorked a bottle of wine from the fridge. ‘Would you rather I didn’t tell you at all?’ Em replied. So Dave took his wine glass next door to concentrate on the television, while Em perched on a stool and closed her eyes, waiting for the prick of the needle. Like I said, each to their own.
Sophia’s novel, ‘The Plus One’, is out now in paperback.