By Chandrima Pal Jan. 09, 2019
I do not hold a high-profile, high-maintenance job. And I am certainly not a star who needs to look radiant every single day. I’m an average, middle-class woman in her 40s. Am I still eligible for that botox shot?
There is no right or wrong side of 40.
A few years ago, my feisty former boss had assured me that once I hit that age, I’d get into cruise mode. At that time, she was trying to dissuade me from getting a tattoo, streaking my hair red, piercing my nose to mark, what I believed, was my seminal year. I am not sure about that cruise mode, but I still do not have any of the things I had promised myself as my rites of passage.
Five years on, my wish list looks different – no piercings or highlights – and it changes according to the time of the month, my child’s school holiday list, and my social media timeline. Now it is about sagging body parts, increasing girth, thinning hair, wrinkles, and droopy eyelids. My body may have embraced my age, my mind is putting up a spirited fight.
I never really looked at my age lines critically until the day a school senior posted some incredible holiday pictures with her photogenic family. The comments section was filled with remarks on how young and glamorous she looked, the others on her timeline bombarded her with hundreds of little hearts and smiley emojis.
She had evidently worked hard on keeping herself fit and slender. But it was her face that had all the secret chat groups abuzz. There was no way that a woman in her mid-40s would suddenly wake up with skin like that. Not. One. Wrinkle. Before and after images were compared and debates ensued over the B-word.
I gazed at her creaseless forehead and perky eyes and wondered… what if? She looked supremely confident, secure in the knowledge that she had no bad angle, no bad skin or hair day, and no wrong side of the bed – and despite filters and effects, her confidence and happiness shone through. Plus, this woman is an accomplished professional, moving in circles of successful, high net-worth women, globetrotters, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. And being well groomed was part of this position.
I gazed at her creaseless forehead and perky eyes and wondered… what if?
Well, that’s how I argued with myself, nipping self-doubt and body-image issues in the bud. Or so I thought.
Then I met an old friend, younger than me. A working woman, a mother of two beautiful boys. Over a quick Martini and the inevitable chat about hitting “cruise mode”, she told me how her friends have all had their sessions with Dr Botox and that she was considering one for herself.
I was a bit discomfited. Here was a woman who had defied her conservative family to break through patriarchy, stormed several male bastions with her academic and professional pursuits, lived life on her own terms. But in her secret desire to slow down the visible signs of ageing, she was no different from the rest of us.
This is perhaps the dichotomy of our times. We have fought long and hard for our choices. We have advocated free speech, our right to complete and unquestioned control of our bodies, and our private, inviolable space. But somewhere along the line, we have also struggled to define what “loving our body” entails. Does it mean ditching hair colour and going furiously grey? Laughing our way through crow’s feet and winkles? Or does it mean offering some good old TLC to our skin, eyes, hair and lips, with a little help?
Was I being hypocritical? I have often called out TV writers, advertisers, soap and shampoo manufacturers for being ageist. But when I see a grey-haired model, trying to sell me an idea of embracing life, I scoff. Because the “grannies” in the ads have baby faces and glistening skin unlike mine. They wear beautifully tailored kurtas and silver jewellery by Moha. When Madhuri Dixit sells me the secret to eternal youth in a jar, I try hard to recall what she looked like before she discovered the fountain of youth. And I draw a blank. Looking fabulous in your grey hair and age lines is probably as much hard work as defying the signs of ageing.
But somewhere along the line, we have also struggled to define what “loving our body” entails.
My problem is not unique. I am not a fierce feminist, contrarian social commentator activist, or bestselling writer. Neither do I hold a high-profile, high-maintenance job. And I am certainly not a star who needs to look radiant every single day. Am I still eligible for that botox shot?
A New York Times essay titled “Aging and My Beauty Dilemma”, puts it succinctly, “Everyone is better off if nobody tummy-tucks and uses Botox, but once anyone starts, it gets harder to pull back from the practice.”
And it is the 40s that really test you. The pharma and organic industries tell you that you need frequent detoxes, vitamin, and calcium supplements to feel strong. Celebrity dieticians tell you that to have a body like Kareena Kapoor or Shilpa Shetty you need to add ghee to your diet and sleep well. And the Ayurveda gurus tell you that it is all right to push back ageing with a little help from herbal, non-violent, vegan, hand-made, limited edition products that are more expensive than your Thailand getaway.
Then, your friends, your acquaintances will tell you, through their many happy, creaseless profile pictures and over cocktail confessionals, that it is okay to take a little intervention now and then, to take care of a wrinkle here and there. At the end of the day, it is important to feel good about yourself.
But the bar for what qualifies as “basic” has been set higher.
For someone, who has loved her body with all its warts and folds, I find myself at a crossroads. I have been been regular with my waxing, pedicures, hiding my grey hair and fuzzy upper lips, things I believed, were part of basic grooming. But the bar for what qualifies as “basic” has been set higher. I know I am going to be judged by some women, if and when I put out my brave new botox face. Just as I know there are women who look deep into my wrinkles and wonder, why have I have stopped loving myself.
Ageing is natural. Go with the flow. But should you judge me if I tell you that there is nothing unnatural about the desire to stop time, even reverse it? If I tell you that the idea of living in harmony with nature is also about doing what makes you happy, would you still grudge me my fillers?
Chandrima Pal is a journalist, columnist, career insomniac and caffeine snob. Loves food. Does travel. Author of A Song for I (Amaryllis) and At Home in Mumbai (Harper Collins).