That Mother Nature is a bitch.
Was it not bad enough she riddled my face with cystic acne beginning when I was 13, a curse that only made its final departure from my life just about 10 minutes ago? Did she have to follow that so immediately with lines? Lines tracking across my forehead like I’ve spent a lifetime profoundly puzzled, laugh lines so deep I could lose food in them?
Yes, I’m turning 36 this summer, so one could argue it’s nearing line-time, but… hello? When the fuck do I get to have some decent goddamn skin?
I’ve decided to fight back, and I’m fighting to win. I’ve recently had the ‘Tox, as I’ve been announcing to friends. Botox, that is, with a side order of an injectable filler and a few rounds of fancy medi-facials to refresh and renew. I’ll look about five when all is said and done.
“Vanity, thy name is Shaun,” my own mother used to say, and while mothers in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, I do think chère mère would find it more than a little amusing that the Carly Simon classic “You’re So Vain” wafted from speakers in Yorkville’s SpaMedica as Dr Stephen Mulholland injected 20 needles into my face.
When the plastic surgeon to the stars was through, I was bruised, swollen and artfully bloodied, like I’d fought the kind of fight this gay boy has never in his life fought.
When it comes to the latest crazes in beauty, when does a guy go too far? Thanks to the reactions of my friends, I’ve come to realize that for gay men in pursuit of looking good, there are differing lines that can and cannot be crossed. It all depends on who you ask.
But cue the dire and moralistic damnation if you like. After all, the new me took place on the exact day that children’s TV empress Micheline Charest died, allegedly after undergoing plastic surgery at a Montreal clinic. However, get used to it. Surrendering to transformation, as they say on the reality TV show The Swan, is here to stay. There is increasing societal acceptance toward doing more for beauty than slathering our faces with expensive over-the-counter potions and creams.
Not that it’s completely accepted. Some people won’t admit to having anything done or even admit to being interested. At Fashion Cares in May, of all the silent auction items up for grabs cheap, goodies like Botox and plastic-surgery consultations remained conspicuously bidless most of the night. Fashionistas are afraid of outing themselves.
While one can go overboard, as Mulholland puts it to me, “Melanie Griffith’s doctor doesn’t have to do everything she asks.” Mulholland would know. His booming practice is 75 percent women, 25 percent men, of which he estimates 25 percent are gay men.
At my initial consultation there’s a thorough round of questioning as to why I am here (see: Mother Nature is a bitch, above) and what result I want (not the Melanie – something natural-looking, please). Then we’re in a tiny room built into Mulholland’s office, with a massive mirror and nasty, merciless fluorescent lighting. I’m in a chair, Mulholland stands behind me, and we face Mother Nature’s sick humour together. It turns out she’s even more evil than I could tell in the kinder lighting of my home. Mulholland does me the favour of pointing it all out.
Mulholland shows me where on my forehead he’ll inject Botox, then places a finger by each of my laugh lines into which he’ll inject the Swedish-made filler Restylane. He pulls them back oh-so-slightly to show me what results to expect. I watch the furrows around my mouth become faint creases, and that by itself, amazingly, provides huge de-aging. Lastly Mulholland indicates just above my right cheekbone, where a spattering of acne scars, neighboured by one doozy of a deep scar, will be injected with Restylane, too. Mother Nature, buckle up.
A week later I’m back and on a comfy curving hospital bed, battle fully underway. My skin is thickly covered with a numbing cream, Carly has clouds in her coffee, and while I want to nod in agreement that I am so vain, I stay perfectly still because the nice man armed with needles is aiming for my face.
I find it unpleasant. After all, I’m needle-phobic. A different man would lie and take it far better than I do and without the clenching of teeth, the making of fists or the holding of breath. I am not that man.
When it’s over Mulholland passes me a large hand mirror: I look like I got in the middle of a catfight between Dynasty’s Krystle and Alexis. In a bathroomI rinse my face of the numbing cream and blood. In the mirror I see some swelling and bruising. My face hurts and I have a headache. But immediately I notice the results. My laugh lines are plumped out and look natural. It makes a huge difference. So too does the fact that my acne scarring is replaced with even smooth unblemished skin.
For the fun of seeing if I can freak a few people out, I decide to walk back to my apartment. Right away there are stares from people walking close as a swollen, bruised man makes his way along Bloor St. One woman, nary a line on her face, makes eye contact and smiles knowingly. I pass Holt Renfrew and look the doorman in the eye but he doesn’t even blink. In his occupation, he has seen far worse than me.
By the time I am home 20 minutes later the swelling is almost completely gone. I’m to rub the areas Mulholland has injected every 15 minutes for three hours. The Botox takes three to five days to takes effect and for a couple of days I have two tiny bruises from where those needles went in. In five days the ‘Tox has set. I had told Mulholland I didn’t want a forehead that didn’t move, and he’s kept his promise to make it natural, yet lineless. (For now anyway; it’ll all wear off in a few months.)
Reaction comes in, and it’s a mixed bag.
“Oh my God, you actually do look younger,” my friends Aaron and Rob both tell me after I confess to each of them. Another friend, JT, can’t stop giggling about the fact that part of my forehead doesn’t move.
“Isn’t this a little early?” my friend James scoffs.
“No, those lines on my face were early,” I reply. “This shit is right on time.”
My friend Gary is disgusted with me. “You’re like a Stepford Wife. I’m so grossed out your face is filled with crap. Gross, gross, gross.”
“But how do I look, Gary?” I ask. Gary is begrudging.
Gay society is so often all about the pretty, and I end up reminding many friends that they themselves – typical of gay men everywhere – regularly drop buckets of cash on teeny bottles of high-end serums that promise to fix lines and the like. The difference is that my needles actually delivered.
Opinions fly, with the most idealistic wishing I was happy with myself the way I am. But I am neither Jesus Christ nor the Dalai Lama. Getting a better haircut, whitening stained teeth, improving your body at the gym – none of that speaks to any form of self-loathing. I am simply happier now to be rid of lines that made me look older and the acne scarring I was sick of seeing.
Which is what makes this good skin thing addictive. Approve or disapprove, there’s no denying these varying procedures work. This past Friday I went to dinner with my boyfriend (to whom I am now known as Botox Betsy) and his best gal pal, Sharon. I suddenly feel Sharon’s eyes are fixed on me. I turn to her.
“Sorry if I’m staring,” says Sharon, a fashion stylist and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing. But she still doesn’t stop. “It’s just that your skin looks so fantastic.”
Mother Nature, take that. Wrinkled old cow.
* Shaun Proulx can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That Mother Nature is a bitch.