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Botox and the Rise of the Imaginary Person

The Origins of Botox


Botox isn’t a recent phenomenon. 


The origins of botox reach back as far as 1895 when Belgian scientist Emile Pierre van Ermengen first discovered Clostridium botulinum during a botulism outbreak in Belgium. 


It wasn’t until the 1970s that scientists Alan B. Scott and Edward J. Schantz started using botulinum toxin to treat crossed eyes. When the toxin was tested on monkeys, they noticed the monkeys had fewer wrinkles between their eyebrows and above their nose. 


Allergan was the first company to license the treatment of crossed eyes and branded the “miracle toxin” Botox.  


It wasn’t long after the rebranding that the FDA approved Botox for cosmetic use under the name “Botox Cosmetic” in 2002. 


In its inauguration to society, Botox was only available to celebrities and the very wealthy.


Many celebrities underwent surgeries but kept it a secret in order to create a false impression that the surgical changes happened naturally. 


However, not all celebrities were ashamed to admit their modifications. In fact, some were very proud to talk about it. 


In Joan Rivers’ 2008 book, “Men are Stupid…And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery,” she called Botox “a miracle in a needle.”


The Growing Popularity of Botox Among Younger Generations 


Now, almost two decades later, Botox is no longer a privilege of the wealthy, it is a household name and one that is being used by people at younger and younger ages. 


Baby Botox is a form of botox that is used on younger patients as a preventative measure against aging. Some patients can be as young as 20. 


New York-based facial plastic surgeon Andrew Jacono said social media and celebrity influencers are a couple of the reasons why there has been a rise in younger patients seeking out cosmetic treatments. 


“The millennial generation has grown up under the constant scrutiny of social media—they don’t know any different,” Jacono said. “This constant magnifying glass drives their continued desire for ‘tweak-ments,’ or multiple small procedures to stave off any drastic rejuvenation as they are continuously prioritizing their appearance. This is ‘prejuvennation.’”


According to Inaugural ASPS Insights and Trends Reports: Cosmetic Surgery 2022, “since the pandemic, plastic surgeons have seen unprecedented demand for cosmetic procedures.” 


42% of patients interviewed said that not traveling as much allowed for more money to be spent on plastic surgery, while another 40% said they would pay anything to feel better after the pandemic. 


Additionally, 59% percent of patients reported being willing to pay more for surgeries than ever before. 


The Rise of the Imaginary Person 


While some may argue that Botox being more available to the average person is a step toward equal access, I find the widespread use of Botox and plastic surgeries deeply troubling. 


Why? Because the real portrayal of beauty is disappearing, and we don’t even know what a normal person is supposed to look like anymore. 


Lip fillers, botox, buccal fat removal, Brazilian butt lifts, tummy tucks, breast implants, breast reductions, nose jobs, face lifts, the list of possible body modifications are endless. As a result, our concept of what is considered “normal” and “average” has changed.


In an article published by Boston University School of Medicine titled “What Constitutes Beauty and How is it Perceived?,” “recent studies suggest that what each person considers beautiful stems from a complicated process influenced by both their environment and their perceptual adaptation (an experience-based process that reshapes how we perceive our environment).” 


Neelam Vashi, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Boston University of Medicine and director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center, said that for decades, the mass media platform has introduced certain criteria to what establishes beauty, and, more recently, social media, instant photo sharing, and editing apps have further influenced how society adapts to beauty principals.


“Unfortunately, a selfie, filtered or not, may not correspond to a patient’s reflection in the mirror, and may lead to an unrealistic and unattainable perfect beauty sought through cosmetic surgery and procedures,” Vashi said. 


Texas-based facial plastic surgeon Ashley Gordon said patients often cite a specific social media post, influencer, or celebrity as their inspiration for seeking out cosmetic treatment. 


“Patients bring in Instagram posts from fitness models to show me what they want their breasts to look like, [and] the same is true for lips, brows, noses, jawlines, and skin, just to name the most popular requested treatments from social media,” Gordon said. “These images can be very helpful because it’s a nonverbal way for patients to communicate their desired result, [however] I do often have to remind patients that photos of the most beautiful people in the world have been photoshopped, Facetuned, or filtered.” 


However, due to the rise in these surgeries and the accessibility to the average person, these “modifications” are no longer perceived as unnatural. 


If everyone is the product of lip fillers and facelifts, the person who hasn’t undergone the surgeries is the one who looks unnatural and bizarre. 


The idea of manipulating nature isn’t a new one, and we have seen people use methods ranging from makeup to confining corsets for centuries in order to obtain some beauty ideal.


However, having the fat pads in your cheeks surgically removed (buccal fat removal) has much more serious consequences than contouring your face with makeup.


Will We Find Normal Again?


We can no longer allow surgery-sculpted bodies to pass as “average” and “normal.” Setting the expectation at such an already impossible standard causes physical and mental damage to those trying to attain it and even more mental and physical damage to those trying to maintain their status as “above average.”


The system we have created isn’t sustainable and will eventually collapse in on itself. The standards can only be raised so high until people no longer look like people. 


I believe that people, tired of the constant upping of the criteria and extreme expectations, will respond in anger. 


Tired of the surgeries and injections, I believe that people will begin to value the beauty that is natural and real. People are already tired of the beauty standards and I don’t think it is long until we see this shift. 


Vashi believes that true beauty is an interplay between biology and environment. 


If we change our environment, we change our world.





Edited by Sean Mulryan

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