I first notice something is wrong in the pixelated immigration photo of me at JFK airport. Even in the fuzzy print-out, my left eyebrow looks as though it’s at least a centimetre higher than the right one.
I confirm the damage in the bathroom mirror at my hotel: somewhere over the Atlantic, my left eyebrow has jumped up and arched into an upside-down “u”. The other eyebrow is still in its usual, nearly horizontal position. It’s as if my face has frozen into a permanent “huh?”
The timing is terrible. I’ve just arrived in America for a 12-city tour to talk about my new book – on ageing. One chapter is called “How to age gracefully”. Now I’m going to present it looking like the punchline of a Puritan morality tale.
Yes, Botox is the culprit. I’d always planned to age the old-fashioned way: with whining and hair dye. But, at 48, my face has changed. The two vertical frown lines between my eyebrows – known as the “eleven” – no longer disappear after I wash my face in the morning. On the eve of publishing my most intimate book yet, with secrets about my family, my friendships and my marriage, I decided I needed some body armour.
By the time I g0t to see a doctor in Paris (where I live as an American expat), it was a week before I was due to leave on the book tour. Lying on a padded chair in her office, I explained that I wasn’t a typical client. “I’m a writer, I need to look natural,” I said. I merely wanted to erase my “onze”.
She laughed at my literal English name for the frown lines. In French, she said, they’re a ride de lion – a lion’s wrinkle. (The laugh lines on either side of the mouth are plis d’amertume – folds of bitterness.) She assured me that I needn’t worry. Whereas Americans get injections to look radically younger, French women merely aim to look like a better version of their actual age, she said. I was doubly reassured: she wouldn’t make me look like a blowfish, and she had affirmed the thesis of my book.
I emerged feeling empowered by my already smoother forehead (the full results would appear in about seven days, just when I was due to fly). But once I’m across the Atlantic and in New York, I see that, on the eve of my tour, I’m lopsided. It’s cosmic punishment for my vanity.
My large black glasses hide the damage a bit. Though I normally use them only to see distances, I decide to wear them at all times. As I travel around America, I’m intensely aware of how symmetrical everyone else’s eyebrows are. Before I go on TV, a kindly make-up artist clears the room, then shows me how to use an eye pencil and brush to make my lower brow seem higher. No one visibly smirks on the set when I quote a Frenchwoman who said, “Trying to look young is the quickest way to look old.”
Once back in Paris, I march into my doctor’s office. “Ah, you have l’accent circonflexe,” she says – the roof-shaped hat that goes above the e in crêpe. Apparently my problem was merely one of punctuation. One petite injection later, my accent descends into a flat parenthesis.
I vow never again to take my evenly matched eyebrows for granted. Yet when I finally work up the courage to watch the TV spot, my eyebrows aren’t really noticeable. Probably no one but me was thinking about them. I don’t look lopsided, I just look middle-aged.•