What do you say to a colleague who’s had Botox? Josephine Fairley explains how to navigate those awkward situations with colleagues or friends when it’s clear to see they’ve had a little work done
"Hi, duckface." Not what you want to hear when you've spent your lunch hour and several hundred dollars having collagen injected into your lips to enhance their contours - but that's how a friend was greeted, on her return to the office.
Personally, and despite having juggled being a beauty editor with a business career for the past 25 years, I'm not a fan. I know of only one other beauty editor "refusenik" in our circle, and we huddle in corners at skincare launches like a two-woman support group. Everyone else, it sometimes feels, is up for being any syringe-wielding cosmetic dermatologist's next guinea pig.
It's still weird (and weirdly distracting) to see the face of someone you've sat beside for months or years be morphed into something other - altered by a line-freezer here, a filler there. I've found myself fixated on a pair of pumped-up lips to the point where I can hardly hear what's coming out of them. And many more times than I'd like, I've had to counsel someone whose Botox hasn't worked out the way she'd hoped: she's not as smooth-browed as Gwynnie; she's frozen in "angry" mode, or one eyebrow's drooped.
Yes, I know there really are "great doctors" out there. Yes, I know that "statistically" there's only a small risk of something going wrong - but having personally known several women whose Botox has gone awry, leaving them saggy-browed or thunderous-looking (as with the most recent failure), I'm cautious. A 60-something friend who'd recently come into a small windfall went right out and had a jab, and is currently sporting a fluffy fringe to conceal the - well, just plain weirdness of her current visage. It chimes exactly with actress Felicity Kendal's recent comments in Good Housekeeping magazine: "I haven't done fillers or Botox for ages. There comes a point where you have to match the bits of you with the other bits, otherwise you get a terribly random situation."
My chum's face will be all right, of course, in a few months - but woe betide those whose more "permanent" procedures go wrong. I once interviewed A Very Well-Known Skin Doctor, for a book I wrote aeons before the Botox boom, Quick Fixes. Basically, if you were going to get stuff done, I figured, you'd better know the right questions to ask to ensure optimum outcome.
He raved about a particular filler: "I'm giving it to all my clients." A few years later, I went back to interview him for a new book, I asked how he was getting on with aforementioned filler. "Nightmare!" was his response. "Turns hard, gets cross-hatched by collagen and is just impossible to get out!" he casually replied, clearly having forgotten that just five years before he was praising it to clients from the rafters. I think that was the moment I figured: nobody's coming near me with a vial of anything.
But it's everyone's personal choice and there's unquestionably a boom in treatments (one British cosmetic surgery group reported an 18 per cent surge in Botox, last year) - and among ever-younger women, too: I meet lots of 20-somethings who are saving for Botox, and fillers, when nature has apparently so far etched not a visible wrinkle on their features, from where I'm sitting (and the eyesight's holding up pretty well, thanks). There's a long maintenance road ahead of them, that's for sure - but I can no more talk them out of it than dissuade a teenager from leaving the house in a skirt that looks like a pelmet, frankly. And I'm not about to tell anyone what they should spend their money on.
But it leads me to the question: just what do you say to a colleague who's clearly had something done? (And it's not just women: there's an upsurge in what's now referred to as "Brotox", for men.) If the outcome's really good, of course, you won't even notice: they truly will look as if they've just had a holiday, or a few good nights' sleep. Pneumatic lips and gravitised brows are harder to ignore. I think the etiquette's this: say nothing, unless they mention it. Not. One. Word. But have Kleenex and biscuits to hand.
I was, meanwhile, recently falsely accused by fellow jab-refusenik of having had "something done around the brows". "No way!" I replied. "You have, you have," she insisted. I thought back, and realised: I hadn't had a procedure - but I had popped into a makeup store for a brow-shape and dye job (and yes, I thought it'd taken off a few years, too).
So if you are planning on "a little work"? Go to a reputable clinic. Ask for personal recommendations. Ask questions, when you get there, and ask to see patient testimonials. (Also ask yourself, "is it all going to 'match', if I have this bit filled or frozen?") And maybe just try having your brows dyed, first.