I remember being in the office of my therapist when I was in my late twenties. I was agitated and distressed by the advancement of age and shouted “I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into middle age … and I don’t like it!” I can laugh about it now. After all, I would give a lot to look as good as I did then.
I’m a bit more relaxed about the aging process these days. I have, after all, had a lot more time to get used to it. For a while though, it did stress me out. I was particularly upset by the frown lines and the wrinkles around my eyes when I smiled. I invested in Botox.
At the time I found Botox amazing. Botox is a toxin that stops the muscles in your face from working effectively. The procedure is very straight forward. A syringe containing the Botox is literally injected into the muscles of your face. It takes about a week for the Botox to become fully effective. By relaxing the muscles of your face, the skin relaxes too, giving you the younger look.
But is Botox manly? One thing to bear in mind is that this simple procedure literally affects the way you smile. Psychologically there are two kinds of smile. The first kind is called a Duchenne smile. This smile is a genuine smile and involves the corners of your mouth turning up and the skin around the corners of your eyes crinkling up too. Non Duchenne smiles are false smiles, and from an evolutionary perspective, are more closely associated with a variety of fear response.
The difference is very subtle, and likely to be imperceptible to the untrained eye. What is interesting is that Duchenne smilers are more likely to have happy romantic and social lives. So even though the effect is imperceptible, it is picked up by other people’s brains. We instinctively know real smilers from fake fearful smilers.
What has this to do with Botox? Well one of the characteristics of a genuine smile is the skin around the corners of your eyes crinkling up. If you’ve had Botox, this isn’t going to happen as effectively. The result is that you are permanently stuck with a non Duchenne smile. Subtly, people will think you’re a fake and possibly even scared. That can’t be manly!
For me, the scariest thing about Botox was when it started to wear off. It felt like suddenly I aged five to ten years in about two weeks. The first couple of times this happened it sent me straight back to the clinic for more injections. When I realised I would have to spend over £1000 a year to maintain the youthful look, I decided to just deal with it. My vanity was costing me a fortune.
Looking back at this period in my life I learnt that age happens. It is neither good nor bad in itself. In fact I think the advantages of age, on balance, outweigh the disadvantages. Responding to aging gracefully, and with courage, is perhaps the manliest strategy to take. Besides, having tried both, it’s definitely cheaper than the alternative!
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers: