Let’s face it, Botox won’t make us happier by Psychologist Jay Watts in the Guardian (11/3/13) was an excellent response to a recent and disturbing trend in academic thinking, namely that if you can’t show it, you don’t feel it.
Watts picks up on recent publications including The Face of Emotion: How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships by Eric Finzi, which put forward the theory that “motion is emotion”. The basic argument seems to be that if Botox prevents me from frowning, then my brain doesn’t pick up the muscular signal that I am angry, hey presto, I can’t be angry! The implication is that as well as preventing the signs of aging, Botox could also be a cure for unwanted emotions such as anger and depression. I think Watts is right to point out the sinister undertones here; not only is it unacceptable for women to age, we’re also not allowed to be angry any more.
That aside, the fundamental block for me is in accepting that our emotions are a by-product of muscular movement. If anything, it’s the other way round, the body is often the repository of unwanted and unprocessed feelings, which our mind can’t acknowledge. Therapy is often seen as the process by which repressed emotions can be accessed, and it’s true that many people come to therapy not knowing why they feel depressed, and the answer has never in my experience been because their facial muscles have decided that they should be.
OK, so I’m being simplistic, but I do think that psychic pain is so often due to the fact that what people truly feel on the inside, cannot be expressed on the outside. The sees are sown in early childhood, Winnicott’s baby who is not cared for in the way he needs, develops a false self to cover up the fear aroused by the lack of care. Later, children learn how to behave in order to gain their parent’s love, we absorb the unspoken rules that govern what is acceptable and what is not. Children who don’t get to express their own feelings and thoughts, grow up suppressing their inner self, because their experience is that they are unacceptable as they are, and to be loved means they have to present what others want, not what they themselves feel. That’s a hard lesson; that in order to be loved, we cannot truly be our selves, and therapy is often about re-writing that lesson and learning to love ourselves unconditionally.
What Eric Frinzi seems to be suggesting is that we should now lock facial muscles into an acceptable form and maintain the gap between what we feel and what we present. As if injecting toxin into our faces is not bad enough, the idea that Botox regulates emotions will only perpetuate the misery of pretence.