This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Just over a year ago I was sitting in a Sephora makeup chair getting the type of free, five-minute makeover you get when becoming glamorous seems like a good way to distract yourself from life’s various hard truths. As the makeup artist began to anoint me with a selection of powders and goops, she looked at me conspiratorially.
“You’ve had some work done, haven’t you?”
“Huh?” I said, speech blurred because at that moment she was drawing all over my lips.
“Lip fillers, right?” she said, a wink in her voice.
“Nope,” I clarified. “No fillers. I guess I just have big lips? My family is Dutch.” I have often tried to justify certain physical qualities via my heritage—as if there’s an actual correlation, and as if anyone finds it interesting.
“It’s funny,” she continued. “You have the kind of face where I can’t tell if you’re 18 or you’re 40.”
I was horrified. At 27, 18 and 40 both seemed like bad options. There was also the fact that the make-up artist was now staring at me with a look that said, don’t worry, this is just between us girls! She seemed to desire a confession from me. At the time, I couldn’t decide which part of the situation I found more insulting: the fact that I might look middle-aged or the fact that, apparently, I seemed like the type of person who was preoccupied with the miracle of a smooth forehead.
A year later and I’ve spoken with several Botox-loving millennials who’ve convinced me that being prejudiced against anti-aging procedures is pretty hypocritical in light of, for example, the “anti-aging” work I’ve had done on my hair—that is, dying it back to the blonde of its youth. I cling to my yellow locks just as others cling to a lack of eye bags.
There’s also the fact that conceptualizing Botox as an endeavor reserved for vanity-driven, age-fearing women not only shows a gross capacity to stereotype, but a failure to keep up with the times. In other words, hating Botox ages you. As reported recently by Forbes, the use of Botox among people aged 19-34 has risen by 87 percent over the past five years. Just ask your friends. Chances are they know someone—or are someone—who has had a little zhooshing done.
But what is making us so suddenly willing to put needles in our faces? According to the following interviews, the answer is a combination of wanting to look like a live Instagram filter, embracing new technology, being able to afford it, and enjoying some surprising medical benefits. Either way, there appears to be a new standard of health and beauty: If you look good and feel good, who cares if it’s natural?
VICE: How long have you been getting botox?
Amanda: I did my first treatment when I was 24.
And what made you decide to get it?
There were a number of factors. I work in communications for fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands, and so I’m constantly being educated on trends. I think I did Botox out of curiosity. I was definitely drawn in by the fact that it delays the aging process and people do it more as a preventative measure than as a corrective kind of thing. Starting young, it was a small price and not a lot of work. It was very attainable for me so I thought, sure, why not, let’s try it. And I just continued.
In what ways has getting Botox affected you, either positively or negatively, in terms of your career and self-image?
In my career I don’t really know if it’s positively or negatively affected me—I think it’s kind of neutral. But I have nothing but positive things to say about it. It makes me feel better. I like my appearance better. For me, Botox is not a permanent thing. It doesn’t last very long. And I think it’s positively affected my self-esteem—not to say that I’ve had any type of low self-esteem—but I think that just like getting a new outfit or haircut makes you feel great, so does Botox. It’s a therapy. It’s another additional, self-maintenance thing you can do to make you feel great.
How much do you spend annually on Botox?
I would say it costs me roughly $200 to $250 every four to six months. And when I was 24 it was even less. Like maybe $150 each time.
And you’re pretty open about having had it?
Very open, yes. It still has a really negative perception, especially around people who don’t educate themselves. You know, unfortunately with cosmetic procedures, you’re really only able to see it if you’ve had a bad job done. You’re not going to tell if someone has had really great Botox because that’s the whole point. I think unfortunately a lot of people associate Botox with low self-esteem, but it’s a much more common procedure than people know. A lot of the negative perception comes from people not being educated. For me, I’ve always said that I have no shame in my game. I’m happy to share the knowledge, give pointers, stuff like that.
So have you ever faced that negative perception yourself? Like have people ever been judgmental of you for getting Botox?
Oh my gosh I just couldn’t care less. I’m sure that it happens and I just don’t know. I’ve definitely seen people staring when I talk about it in public, like if I’m telling somebody else where they should go for it. I definitely see people going like, “oh my God, you’re talking about it in public, so taboo,” but it really doesn’t affect me at all. I think more people should just talk about it naturally.
So what are your feelings about “natural beauty” versus cosmetic beauty? Do you even think there’s a difference, and do you feel like our society prioritizes one type of beauty over the other?
I think that those lines are so blurred now. If you were to ask one person what natural beauty is, and then ask another person, I think they’d have completely different ideas. You know, is natural beauty not wearing makeup but maybe you have Botox and filler? The definition of natural beauty is really unclear, and I think that’s a great thing. The less ability we have to put things in buckets, I think the better for everybody.
How influential has social media been for you in terms of the way you want to look?
I think that anybody in this day and age would be lying if they said it didn’t affect them. Absolutely it plays into our idea of what beauty is, for sure. So just as much as it has influenced my perspective on beauty, it’s also educated me a lot on it. Social media makes it easy to learn about where you’re going to get Botox and fillers, and also about the different doctors and the the procedures they do.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of getting Botox?
If you’re interested in doing it for yourself, and it’s not motivated by external factors, I’d say one hundred million percent go for it. The only things I would say are: have realistic expectations and do your research. Make sure you’re going to a reputable place with good reviews. And if you can’t sustain it, like if the price point is going to be difficult for you to keep up with, just take that into consideration. Botox is a long-term commitment.
VICE: Can you talk a bit about why you first started getting Botox?
Tasha: With me, I have severely sensitive skin and allergies to a lot of different products—especially deodorant. My underarms were pretty much torn apart from using deodorant, and this started when I was about eleven years old—so embarrassing. And so my mom and I went to the doctor, who tried all sorts of different things until I was about 18 or 19 years old. Nothing worked. I have horrible scars because of it. Finally, we moved to the Okanagan, British Columbia, and switched doctors, and he recommended Botox so that I wouldn’t have to use deodorant at all—because Botox prevents you from sweating. My mom was so against it. She was like, “no, I don’t want you to think that Botox is a way to fix things.” But we went home and chatted, and she agreed to let me give it a try. I went back to the doctor and got a couple vials, and then some more, and my armpits started getting way better. And they were able to work on the scar tissue as well, so that’s how the cosmetic aspect of things started for me. Because before, I couldn’t wear short sleeves or dresses because of the horrendous scars. So now I get Botox every four to six months.
So did you start using Botox, or other cosmetic treatments, for more than just your armpits after that?
Yeah, so, once I’d hopped on the Botox train, moving to the Okanagan I noticed that a lot of my friends were getting their under-eyes filled and their lips filled and they all looked gorgeous, so I was like, “I need to get in on this.” So first I just did a tiny little bit of filler in the lips, just to even out my cupid’s bow, and then after that I was like, “OK, this is amazing.”
But you’ve yet to have facial Botox?
That’s right. I’m not against getting Botox when I’m older. But I want to wait until I know where my problem spots are—those fine lines and wrinkles. I don’t want to look plastic. I just want to be smooth. I guess I feel better about the fillers than I do about the Botox.
Why is that?
I think it’s because when you tell people you have Botox as a young person, people think you’re psychotic. They don’t get it. But when you tell people you’ve had fillers, they’re like, “oh, right, like the Kardashians.” There’s not the same negative connotation to fillers as to Botox. There’s no “oh my God, that’s so bad for you!” There’s a really big education thing to it, too. I’m an esthetician, and so I work with a lot of people who’ve had fillers and Botox. Everyone at the spa I’m working at is getting it done, so why wouldn’t I get it done as well?
You mentioned your mom initially being against Botox—even just the medical Botox—so how do she and your older relatives feel about fillers and other cosmetic work that young people are having done?
My mom is fine with fillers because she doesn’t really notice them. The other thing is, now that I can pay for it myself, I don’t need her to support me in the same way. But my grandparents think it’s horrific. What they always tell me is, “oh, but you’re so pretty, you don’t need that, why are you wasting your money?” It wasn’t a normalized thing for their generation, and so they see it as this big scary thing. I’ve had my fillers compared to a nose job and I’m like, “no, this isn’t a major surgery. It’s a 20-minute appointment.”
For yourself, how influential has social media been in terms of the way you want to look.
So influential. In moving from a small town to Kelowna, British Columbia, I’ve noticed that more and more people want to look a certain way and they’re doing everything to achieve that look, whether it’s getting Botox or going to the gym six days a week. Social media impacts all of that hugely, because all day everyday we’re looking at these beautiful people online. I think that the younger generation—like around my age and younger—has huge understanding that what you see online is not real. But they’re more willing to look not-real because that’s what they’ve grown up with.
Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that take before.
Yeah, so you can show them a picture and be like, “look how photoshopped this is,” and they’ll say, “I know, and I also know that this look is attainable to me in some way.” The way people do makeup and skincare now… well the whole industry has just exploded since social media has come around.
VICE: How long have you been getting Botox and what were your original motivations for doing so?
Natasha: I was in my mid-to-late 20s when I first started. You know those horizontal lines that go across your forehead? What motivated me was that those lines were appearing even when I wasn’t raising my eyebrows or creating an expression. I started getting nervous. I was like, “oh, this is how it starts.” So I started getting small doses, just to prevent the wrinkle from becoming permanent and setting in.
Why were those wrinkles particularly scary to you?
It’s not that they were scary. I was coming from a place where I was genuinely interested in the [cosmetic] industry. I knew how things worked. It wasn’t that I freaked out and wanted to go and get it all erased. I knew that with small doses of Botox, I was simply preventing those lines from becoming permanent.
And you’re a cofounder of a place called The Vanity Lab, which focuses on anti-aging treatments. Why did you decide to make medical aesthetics your career?
I have a background in science. But at college, when I should have been studying, I’d deep-dive into how certain ingredients in certain beauty products worked on like a cellular level. When I started combining my two interests—science and aesthetics—that’s when I really became passionate about this field. So I started working in a few different clinics in Vancouver, but I felt like no one was really doing it right. A lot of the places were really expensive, and it was only older women who were coming in. I wanted to start a place that would kind of weed out all the junk—because a lot of places offer products and services that aren’t the most effective—and provide the same services as top clinics but in a more affordable, everyday way. Just like people might take care of themselves by getting their hair or nails done, I wanted people to be able to take care of their skin health and anti-aging on a regular basis.
And in your clientele, are you seeing a ton more young people than you used to?
We see all age ranges, but we do attract a younger demographic. We were one of the first clinics to hone in on Instagram. When we started, some clinics were on Instagram but it was a lot of stock photos, and nothing really engaging. Whereas for us, we made it more fun, light, and educational. Our following really grew from there. And since we are so popular on a platform that is more popular with a younger age demographic, we do get a younger clientele.
What about men? I’ve spoken to a few men who’ve said that friends of theirs have had cosmetic Botox. But they seem more hesitant to come forward.
It’s funny because I was just saying a couple hours ago that yesterday was the first time we’ve ever had way more men in the clinic than women. I mean, it wasn’t a normal day. We were filming a reality show, and they were focussing on “Brotox.” So a bunch of brothers came in to get their one brother—the only one who’d yet to have Brotox—brought up to speed. We definitely do see men, and the reason I think we’re seeing more men is because people are getting educated. Like even five years ago, a lot of people had the perception like, “oh, Botox, that’s where you’re eyebrows are all raised and you can’t move your face.” I think men were hesitant to do something that would look obvious and that would reveal they’d had a cosmetic procedure. But now, people are realizing that if you’ve had it done right, you shouldn’t be able to tell. With social media, we’re no longer seeing Botox only on TV shows or sitcoms, where it was portrayed as something humorous—you know, with the frozen face and over-inflated lips.
A lot of conversations around beauty today revolve around what is natural versus what is cosmetic. Do you care about the difference between natural and cosmetic beauty? Is there even a difference nowadays?
There’s definitely a difference, and that’s why I’m so open about it. On Instagram, for example, there was that ten year challenge and I did a “Before” and “After” of me where I listed the huge list of all the cosmetic procedures I’ve tried in my profession. But since I’m so open and honest on social media, I often get people saying, “you shouldn't be advertising this or telling people to get this.” But I’m not telling anyone to get it—I just I don’t think we should hide it. Because with social media and young girls, it’s tricky. You know the whole #iwokeuplikethis photo? No one is actually waking up like that. Same with #nofilter. Even if there isn’t a filter, maybe that person has had their eyebrows tattooed or they’ve had a spray tan or lash extensions or Botox or filler to contour their face. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and mislead people. With all the available procedures today, I wouldn’t want someone to look at a photo of someone else and feel self-conscious because they didn’t wake up with perfect eyelashes or flawless skin. It’s funny where society has drawn lines between what’s OK to talk about and what isn’t. Like, you would never looked at someone’s bleach-blonde hair with dark roots showing and think, hey, my hair isn’t like that and now I feel bad. Whereas, when you’re looking at people who’ve had all these new procedures done, it’s different. So I think it’s healthy to have a dialogue about this stuff.
VICE: So, you use Botox for medical reasons, right? Before these interviews I had no idea that non-cosmetic Botox was even a thing.
Trevor: You know, I didn’t either until this past September. I got my start with it because I was going to the dentist and being like, “my jaw hurts all the time.” I was holding a lot of tension in my jaw and my temples, largely due to anxiety. So they were like, “we’re going to group together your physio, your pills, these Botox injections for your jaw, and hopefully all of it at once will help you... not be broken.” Medical Botox is actually quite expensive, but for me, the army paid and is paying for it. The army refers me out to a civilian oral surgeon and he puts the Botox in my masseter muscle—the one that flexes when you bite—and he puts it in my temple and another small group of muscles in my cheek, and it just paralyzes those areas. Because that’s what Botox is: It’s a neurotoxin that paralyzes or relaxes muscles. Then over time, those muscles atrophy and the tension goes away. So I’ve had three injections over the course of about eight months, and my jaw pain is gone.
And has it changed the way you look at all?
No, no not at all. I would kind of joke about the procedures beforehand, like, “oh look at me getting my Botox today, I’m gonna look so great,” but it didn’t alter my appearance at all. My experience has been extraordinary. Botox helped me get back to playing trumpet some more because before, my jaw would just be throbbing every time I picked up my instrument. Everything is just going so well, musically speaking, since I got these injections because I’m actually able to use my face again while I play.
And how do people typically react when you tell them you’ve had Botox? I mean, yours has been for medical purposes, but I imagine people still have opinions.
Yeah, usually they’ll say, “oh, you don’t look like you’ve had it,” or “why?” but I just say it’s for medical purposes, and most people are surprised by that because not many people know that it’s an option.
So would you ever consider getting Botox for cosmetic reasons, given your experience with it medically?
I don’t think I’m vain enough. I want to age with grace. It’s not a priority for me, but if my doctors told me they could give me Botox that would both help with pain and give me a toned look, well I would probably consider it. But if it were just for cosmetic purposes, then I don’t think so. That’s not because I think it’s wrong or anything, but it’s just not my cup of tea, and I don’t think I need that kind of intervention to feel validated in my physical beauty.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Mica Lemiski on Twitter.