10 NOVEMBER 2001, Page 68

Raising eyebrows

Kate Fassett

I AM getting old. My laughter lines have become more hysterical than mildly amused. But until a few months ago I never thought I'd actually try to turn back time. Like most people who don't live in Hollywood, I found the idea of surgery too drastic and undignified. Then I heard about Botox. Within two weeks I was in a stranger's house in Notting Hill, clamped between an Arnold Schwarzenegger clone's legs like a wrangled steer, being punctured in the forehead.

Botox is a tradename for botulinum toxin A. The small amounts used by doctors act by blocking the chemical released by the nerves that would normally tell your muscles to contract. In large doses it can cause botulism food-poisoning, characterised by paralysis, sometimes fatal. In really large doses it has been used as an agent in biological warfare. This, they inject you with.

Doctors insist that it is safe. They have been prescribing it to sufferers from migraine and cerebral palsy for at least 20 years. Botox's cosmetic potential was first discovered when it was used to treat people with dystonia — involuntary muscular spasms. Not only did the twitches subside but the patients also began to look smoothskinned and wrinkle-free. In fact, the only downside that anyone will admit to is that a misdirected jab can result in a temporarily droopy eye. Hmm. Droopy eye.

Only the elite are aware that Botox has replaced Ann Summers underwear and Tupperware as the essential ingredient of a fashionable, girlie party. Groups of wealthy women and the occasional uninhibited man get together to hire a friendly doctor with clean needles. Over champagne and canapes he explains the procedure, then takes excited guests off individually to inject the Botox. I know this all too well, because my mother (one facelift down, two to go) and my sister (two bosoms, one chin and one nose up) convinced me to go to one.

You really need this,' flattered Arnie, as succumbed to the embarrassment of having him overdraw the wrinkle relief map that is my forehead with a marker pen. 'Frown more, lift your eyebrows.' Ten minutes and 15 tiny, painless pinpricks later, I was done. I didn't even have to take off my make-up.

I was warned that the effect doesn't kick in for about two days, but within one it was irritating in a 'forehead pressy' sort of a way. and I was still not visibly different. On the second day, to my great astonishment, I looked into the mirror at an utterly calm person, a person with not a care in the world. But I have got a care in the world. I specialise in cares in the world; it's just that it has become impossible for me to express them. I can't physically frown, lift or furrow my eyebrows. More importantly, I can feel that I can't, which is unnerving.

My nieces now laugh at me when I try to look cross, and, when I attempt to express empathy or tragedy, I laugh at myself. The only solution that has so far occurred to me is to stick pre-written Post-it notes on my forehead, so that I don't have to compensate verbally for my lack of facial expression. (It can get very boring trying to explain how you feel when a simple grimace or frown would have done.) People say I look well, and I suppose I do appear a little less stressed, although not necessarily younger. Botox's best advert is Cliff Richard, who has admitted that it is the secret behind his perennially Peter Pan face. I now find myself watching him on television, wondering whether he is secretly seething behind that serene expression. Another new preoccupation is 'celebrity Botox-spotting'. Is it my imagination, or does the lovely Kylie look a little waxy these days?

Botox is a sloth's and coward's way to change your face, and that's no bad thing. It is a good way to look different without having to be carved up or permanently altered. It is administered in comfortable surroundings, wears off after about four months, and does not involve undignified hours in Lycra on a cycling machine or splashing around in warm, chlorinated water being frog-kicked in the face by strangers. When you consider that gym membership costs about £600 a year, plus another £100 joining fee, the £250 for Botox injections doesn't sound too unreasonable.

Nor does giving nature a helping hand have negative connotations these days. I haven't noticed people reacting to me differently (although that could be because I always confess before they have a chance to). And while everybody has been very keen on prodding and poking and shouting, 'Frown now!', they have not been at all sneery. Which comes as no surprise. These days, paying to perfect yourself is anything but embarrassing. Even an orthodontic brace is now seen as tooth jewellery. In America, at least, it has become an outward statement of the fact that you can afford to do it. Admitting to having dyed your hair or having spent hours in a nailbar is even something to brag about, although it may take some time before liposuction is seen in the same light.

My boyfriend is the only person who says it doesn't suit me. He says that he thinks one thing will lead to another, and he'll end up with a completely different woman from the one he started with. I think he's worried that I'll get addicted and that he'll have to pay for it. Anyway, now that I am calm and insouciant, I could always get a new boyfriend.

But, to tell the truth, I'm not going to have it done again. I feel too sorry for my myself. My body will have spent four whole months trying to get rid of this toxin, and I don't have the heart to pump another batch into it, just when it thinks its job is done.