I am lying on my back, on the kind of bed which would usually mean I was getting a smear test. But I am here for an entirely different purpose. "I'm just going to get the Botox," says Bianca, my lovely Australian nurse from behind her PPE. "I'll be back in a moment."
I stare at the ceiling and make a list of all the things that could go wrong. They're obliged to tell you the risks before they give you the treatment, but it has sent me into something of a tailspin. I could have an allergic reaction. I could be the first woman in history to die during a medically supervised Botox appointment. Who do I think I am, getting Botox on a Wednesday morning? I'm not a reality TV star. And I'm only 29 years old. Am I really so vain that I want to pay to have needles stuck in my face?
I wasn't always like this. Even back in early 2020 – a simpler time, when global pandemics belonged in films – I had considered and discarded the idea of having Botox on the basis that I wanted to age gracefully like Helen Mirren. But after months of staring at myself on screen during Zoom meetings, FaceTime chats and Skype calls, I feel very differently.
Earlier this week, after yet another Zoom where my ability to discuss the topic at hand was impeded by the constant readjustment of my screen to cut off the top section of my forehead, I found myself googling "Botox". Before I knew it, I'd spoken to a nice woman on Harley St and booked an appointment to get my forehead – what Vogue has labelled the "lockfrown" – ironed out.
I am far from the only woman to succumb. I spoke to 10 clinics that offer Botox, and every one of them reported a marked uptick in requests post-lockdown. Many are having to open up extra appointments, after hours, to accommodate the demand. Facial aesthetician Dr Krystyna Wilczynski told me "there has been an enormous increase in enquiries. I have noticed around a 40 per cent rise in requests for Botox, alongside my regular clients being desperate to book back in, too".
The "Zoom Effect" is actually shaping which "tweakments" women are asking for.
Dr Daniel Hunt, owner of clinic Imperial Aesthetics, predicts that the popularity of tear trough fillers, jaw augmentation and "baby Botox" (tiny injections, with longer intervals between treatments, to achieve a more natural look) will spike, thanks to the fact we've all been staring at ourselves on screen.
According to the Cadogan Clinic, inquiries about rhinoplasty – a considerably more serious augmentation – have jumped by 20 per cent. The theory being that, as masks are unlikely to go anywhere soon, you'll be able to hide the majority of the bruising and swelling when out in public.
Much was made of the lack of hairdressers during those long months stuck at home. But many women became dissatisfied with more than their locks. New research by Glowday, the UK's first marketplace for non-surgical treatments, found more than a quarter of British women (27 per cent) feel lockdown aged them. Of the 2000 women surveyed, this rang most true for the 25 to 34-year-old demographic (44 per cent). A quarter of the women surveyed (22 per cent) cited lockdown as the reason behind their interest in treatments, a figure that rose to 31 per cent among 25 to 34-year-olds.
Much has already been written about the rights and wrongs of cosmetic procedures. One side argues it is grossly wrong for young women to pay thousands of pounds to have bits of themselves sliced and diced. The other side argues a woman has the right to do whatever she wants with her body.
Botox is the acceptable face of cosmetic adjustments. It's known as a "lunchtime" treatment because it takes a matter of minutes and requires almost no down time afterwards. When I told a friend I was nervous about it, she laughed. "Rebecca," she said, "people get this done by their hairdressers. I once had it done in a shopping mall. You will be fine."
She wasn't the only one. Apparently I am surrounded by "Shy Botoxers". As soon as I admitted to wanting it, the women in my life were lining up to confess, off the record, that they were getting jabbed on the quiet.
Those I had always assumed to be naturally perfect told me they've been getting help for years. Alice*, 31, explains she's attended multiple Botox parties where women drink wine and have injections.
"Getting Botox was the first thing I did when the restrictions lifted," she says. "I was overdue when lockdown started, so ended up going nearly a year without. Everyone else complained about their hair on our Zoom calls, but all I could see was my lines."
"I spent six to eight hours a day on calls during lockdown, and my company insisted we have our cameras on," says Leyla, 34. "By the end, I had a mental list of all the things I wanted done to my face – and Botox was at the top."
Another friend admits she had her first appointment aged just 21. "The person doing it told me I was a bit on the young side," she says. "But I had used sunbeds, and was ageing prematurely, so I didn't have to fight to get him to give me the treatment. I've been doing it twice a year for seven years, so I've probably spent about £3500 (NZ$7000) on Botox, which is more than I have in savings to buy a house."
Aesthetic doctor Dr David Jack tells me this new surge in Botox requests is certainly not just the preserve of the Love Island crowd.
"Most of my clients are in the 40-plus age group, and lockdown has been one of the biggest drivers of my recent business. Many of my existing clients are currently doing more in terms of treatment than they usually would – where they would have just had Botox they're now asking to add a filler as well."
What surprised me was just how many women are keeping their "tweakments" quiet. Some worry it will be seen as trivial and vain compared to, say, the ongoing global pandemic.
Dr Yannis Alexandrides, founder of 111Harley St, tells me that being honest about getting Botox largely depends on your age and career. "Those in corporate roles or the public eye tend to be more private," he explains. "As a whole, I've found younger women are more inclined to talk openly about it."
Back on Harley St, I was surprised by how little the Botox hurt and how quick it was. During the consultation (never have a treatment at any clinic that doesn't insist on a consultation first) Bianca explained I might not see much of a difference initially. You go back after two weeks for a free top-up (as is the case with most reputable practitioners). My mother and husband both maintain I look exactly the same. But I think I can see a change already.
I know getting old is a privilege and in an ideal world I wouldn't have felt sad staring at my own face on Zoom. But self-esteem is a complicated beast. And in these uncertain times, I like the idea I have control over how I age. I'm already booking my next appointment.