This is an article I never imagined writing. Because it’s about something I never imagined doing.
I had cosmetic work done while my husband and I lived in George Town, Malaysia, for a month. To be more specific, I had fillers and Botox injected into my face.
It felt very frickin’ weird writing that last sentence. Until recently, I would’ve sworn I was the last person in the world to do something like this.
It completely contradicts — contradicted — my self-image.
But I’m 59 years old, and a few years ago, I started noticing pretty dramatic changes to my appearance. Deep creases appeared on either side of my face. The one on my left reached almost all of the way down to my chin. More lines scored my cheeks, and the bags and wrinkles under my eyes looked like they belonged to someone in their late 60s, not their late 50s.
Was it related to the sun exposure from my time living in Australia? My years as a flight attendant? My chronic, long-time insomnia?
Whatever the cause, I began doing something I’d never done before.
I started hating looking at myself in the mirror.
Washing my face or brushing my teeth became exercises in staring at myself and feeling morose. Or averting my eyes so I didn’t look too closely.
Sometimes I even pulled my skin back, wishing I could still look more like I used to.
My husband Brent told me I didn’t have anything to worry about, that I still looked great. But after the sixteen zillionth time I told him how bad I felt, he said, “Well, when we’re in Asia, why don’t you do something about it?”
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“If it will make you feel better,” he said, “Then, yes.”
That was nice to hear, but I wasn’t really on board with getting “work” done on my face. Why?
Because this just isn’t me.
Still, I did start at least considering it.
Once we were in Malaysia, Brent caught me looking in the mirror one day, frowning, and he said, “Are you going to look into having something done?” If he hadn’t said that, I don’t think I ever would’ve done it on my own.
Because this just isn’t me.
And I really didn’t think it was.
I wasn’t like those aging Hollywood actresses whose faces I often noticed, either because they looked too good — clearly, they had a good surgeon! — or I was appalled by what they’d done to themselves — that’s so sad they felt the need to do that!
And I definitely wasn’t like those desperate, looks-obsessed, middle-aged gay guys who refuse to leave the party circuit.
I’ve never lamented growing older. My life has only gotten better as the years have gone by. Turning thirty, forty, and even fifty didn’t trouble me at all. Our fifties were when Brent and I began nomading, the single best improvement to our lives that we’ve ever made.
So clearly, my reasons for maybe having cosmetic work were different. I was different from those actresses, and other gay men, and all of the other vain, superficial people who had work done.
I started researching my options.
I did know I didn’t want anything as dramatic as a face-lift. For starters, I worried about the medical risks. I also feared looking “weird” afterward.
I was intrigued by something called Fraxel, or “fractional laser treatment.” The post-procedure pictures looked pretty scary — a fair bit of bloody red skin, followed by a great deal of scabbing. But the skin usually healed within seven days, and in most photos there was a definite improvement.
But even though I was researching it, I wasn’t really going through with it.
Because this just isn’t me.
In George Town, after more hemming and hawing, I set up a consultation with a doctor.
She took one look at my face and said, “Sorry, Fraxel will not solve your problem. Your issue is that you have a long, narrow face. And with age, you’ve lost much of the volume under your skin. That is why you have those creases and your skin is sagging so much.”
“What would you recommend?” I asked.
“Juvéderm,” she said. “It’s an injectable filler that goes under the skin on your face. It replaces the volume you’ve lost. And some Botox.”
Which is almost certainly going to make me look like a clown.
“How much does it cost?” I asked.
“You’ll need two injections on each side of your face,” she said, quickly adding up some numbers. “And with the Botox, it will be about $1400 American dollars.”
This is cheaper than it would be back in America — one-third to one-half the cost — but it was still more than I was expecting, and I actually felt relieved. Because that kind of money wasn’t in our budget.
On the ride home, Brent said, “I think you should do it.”
“What?” I said, frankly shocked. He handles our money, and he’s been known to count pennies.
“We can afford it,” he said. “Especially if you think it’s going to make you feel better.”
I have to say, it’s nice to find out your husband doesn’t put a price tag on your happiness — even if that price tag is $1400.
But I still wasn’t sold. There were too many reasons not to do it — the money, the risk of looking strange, and especially because…
This! Just! Isn’t! Me!
Then a new worry occurred to me: What would people think? Would our friends think less of me? I hated the idea of people discussing it behind my back, judging me, surprised by how vain I was.
And why wouldn’t they? I’d done plenty of that judging myself.
“But I think we should research it more first,” said Brent. “Make sure this procedure is as safe as the doctor says. And get a second opinion. Also, another place might do it for less.”
I liked that idea a lot. Frankly, I still hoped it would give me a reason not to do it.
BECAUSE THIS JUST ISN’T ME.
I researched injectable fillers and learned they had been used for a long time and were generally considered very safe. Even better, the fillers — made of something called “hyaluronic acid” — were slowly absorbed by the body over time. So even if I looked weird afterward, eventually it would fade.
On the other hand, if I liked the results, it was going to cost more money down the road to get them again.
I also got that second opinion. The cost was the same, but I had a little less confidence in the second doctor.
I surprised myself by making the appointment for the procedure the following week.
And as each day went by, I kept looking for reasons to cancel.
It’s too expensive. I’m scared. And of course: This. Just. Isn’t. Me.
The day before the procedure I had a slightly scratchy throat and nearly canceled.
I told myself if my throat was worse in the morning, I would definitely cancel because I wasn’t going to chance giving someone Covid.
I felt perfectly fine in the morning.
Well, my throat felt fine. Mentally, I didn’t feel so great.
I can’t believe I’m really going through with this!
Suddenly, it was four o’clock, and we were at the clinic. I filled out the paperwork and was led upstairs into a room where the procedure would be done. I won’t say it was exactly an out-of-body experience, but it was pretty damn close.
Once the “before” photos were taken, the doctor came in and proceeded to use a pen to make marks on my face to indicate where the injections would take place.
My next article will cover exactly what steps I took in my research, what resources I consulted, everything that was involved with the procedure — and how it all felt.
(Spoiler alert: it was more intense than I expected!)
The next day, despite the blotchiness, I immediately noticed a huge improvement in the way I looked. My face was fuller, the skin less saggy and with fewer wrinkles. I definitely looked younger. Not young, but more the way I felt like I should look.
Just as importantly, I didn’t look weird.
Within a week, the minor redness and swelling disappeared, and I thought I looked even better. Not ten years younger than my actual age, but a better-looking me.
If I weren’t telling the world I’d had this done, I’m not sure anyone other than Brent would even notice, except perhaps to say, “You look well-rested. Are you sleeping better?”
Because my face still has wrinkles and creases. I don’t look “amazing” for my age. Now I think I look my age.
More than anything, I wanted to feel better about myself — and I do. A lot better. Frankly, I can’t believe how much better it’s made me feel.
It’s not just my face that’s changed. My attitude toward cosmetic work has changed as well. After my experience, I had to admit that I’d been wrong the entire time about this not being me.
Clearly, it was me. I just didn’t want to admit it.
It’s also changed the way I view the choices other people make, how they’re really, really none of my business. My choices — and my reasons for making them — are no more or less valid than anyone else’s.
Wow, I was judgmental before. That was me.
But life has a way of humbling you. I’m less judgmental these days.
I like this version of myself much better, in every sense.
That’s the best change of all.
This is me — the better me I want be.
Michael Jensen is an author, editor, and one half of Brent and Michael Are Going Places, a couple of traveling gay digital nomads. Subscribe to their free travel newsletter here.