I am an ageing woman. There. I’ve admitted it. As if it were a well-kept secret and nobody else had noticed. So I can understand the impulse to want to freeze time (and, obviously, your face) with Botox. But it seems that deciding whether or not to have Botox is a little more complex than just deciding whether to age (dis)gracefully or to fight the signs of ageing with everything you have. Turns out, Botox can affect your emotions – and those of others.
When your face is frozen with Botox – and I guess this is pretty obvious – you are unable to show emotion or expression on your (frozen) face. Now, several studies are exploring the notion that not only are people with Botoxed faces unable to show emotion, they actually might not be able to FEEL it as strongly as they used to.
Scientists at Barnard College in New York found that participants in the study who had received Botox responded less strongly to emotionally charged videos than the group without Botox.
This finding seems to support the idea that the expression on your face isn’t just as a result of your feelings but that feedback from your facial expressions actually influences your experience of emotions. Just think about how, when you smile, you automatically feel better. And conversely, if you frown, you can start feeling sad or angry.
Recent research by neurobiologists (and the like) backs up this “fake it till you make it” theory, showing that we experience feelings based on what happens in our body – so something happens which causes our heart to start pounding and our palms to sweat and THEN our brains interpret these sensations as fear, for example – and not the other way round (that is, we feel fear and THEN our heart starts pounding).
Another problem with an expressionless face is that it can affect communication – and not in a good way. We do, after all, respond unconsciously to facial cues and body language. And if your face isn’t responding as I talk to you, I might interpret that as a lack of interest or sympathy. Either way, I won’t enjoy the interaction and certainly won’t seek you out again. The other thing is that if you are telling me a sad story (for example) but your facial cues don’t really correlate, I might not know what is wrong (remember that most of this is happening subconsciously) but I will know that something doesn’t quite ring true, that there is a dissonance somewhere and I will feel oddly removed, too, from your feelings.
Of course, the flip side of all of this is: if freezing our facial expression with the use of Botox can inhibit our feelings, then surely if we are suffering from depression, Botox can help inhibit our feelings of sadness, too? And this is precisely what dermatologist and author of The Face of Emotion, Eric Finzi, has been experimenting with. By injecting Botox into the muscles used to frown, he claims he has been interrupting the feedback loop to the brain, improving the mood of depressed patients. Of course, the patients could be feeling better because of improved interaction with others because of their brighter, less sad looking faces.
And so with all of these conflicting theories, what’s an ageing woman to do? My feeling is to enjoy my lined face because it’s been lived in and I have lived and loved and laughed – why would I want to get rid of the evidence of that?