Our resident agony aunt, Rhona McAuliffe, advises a reader whose friend isn't being honest with her
My relationship with my friend is suffering because she won’t fess up to all the cosmetic work she’s had done. In the last two years her face has noticeably changed. Although the procedures are probably quite minor – botox, a bit of lip filler – it’s like talking to a different person. Her forehead doesn’t move, her brows are permanently surprised and her usually thin lips are bee-stung. I’ve asked her a couple of times what she’s had done and she’s flatly denied it just saying that she’s getting an electro-pulse facial once a week and is using a plumping lip treatment. I laughed at her, thinking she was joking but she completely ignored me and changed the subject. If she can’t even be open about what she’s obviously pumping into her face, how real is our relationship anyway? I just can’t take her seriously anymore when I know she’s lying. It’s really damaged our friendship and I’ve stopped sharing my private life with her as she is obviously not sharing hers with me. What’s the best way to get her to open up and be honest with me so we can clear the air and move on?
Stop being A Fake, Waterford.
This scenario is so familiar to me. I’ve never outed someone’s new face but I have not-so-patiently waited for friends to share their most intimate secrets; secrets that they may have whispered under pain of death to one loose-tongued crew member. This might have been news of a first period, a cheating boyfriend, a parents’ divorce or the jackpot tale of virginity lost. Preloaded with insider info, I would steer the conversation towards the target subject with the finesse of a drunk relative and coax out the exposé. I was always relieved when the news was out and life could continue as normal, for me. The secret I knew, that she wasn’t telling me, occupied my every thought.
Until I learned that your business is none of my business. And I learned this by reaching an eventual impasse with my friends who started to heavily embargo sensitive information. While I was happy to out every detail of my life, they were not. Eventually – I’m going to say I was in my mid to late twenties – I learned to respect our differences; and their private lives.
Although your friend is wearing her secret for all to see, you are not in a dissimilar position. You’ve asked straight out, at least twice, if she’s done something to her face. It seems she’s either swerved the question or pinned her new look on a voodoo facial. She’s obviously not ready to talk about it. Without realising it, you are in fact ‘Botox-shaming’ your friend. - yes, it’s an actual thing – and she may well be holding out because she doesn’t want to be judged.
While ‘aging gracefully’ still seems to be the holy grail, it is such a loaded phrase. As a society, we celebrate older women who don’t look older but who also don’t seem to have had work done. These women have won the beauty lottery and are indebted to their lucky genes, privileged lifestyle or the imperceptible sorcery of their exclusive cosmetic practitioner; otherwise known as ‘good work.’ But what about the women who haven’t lucked out or have never been happy with how they look? Between these cracks, shame lingers. ‘Natural’ beauty is revered but artificially altering or preserving your appearance is still considered vain and inauthentic by some.
The truth is, we have such a complex and constantly fluctuating relationship with our bodies, which is heavily influenced by celebrity culture and the beauty industry, that the last thing we need is judgy peers. Of course, the ideal is a tectonic shift in social attitudes and values so that we can all live confidently in our own skin, whatever our age, size, shape or colour. And although the Body Positivity movement is making great ground here, cosmetic procedures are booming, with the Irish market 3rd in the world for ‘intent to attain’ lip fillers and Botox, according to a recent Cork University Hospital study.
With celebrity ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots propping up the internet, we’ve also seen a steady stream of high profile women mocked for the cosmetic choices they’ve made. Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Lyndsay Lohan and Anna Faris are just some of the women who’ve been labelled ‘botched,’ ‘puffy' or ‘unrecognizable.’ Now, a growing number of celebrities are refusing to be surgery-shamed and are calling out the bullies. Cardi B, reality star and rap sensation, has recorded several YouTube clips to counter her haters. She loves her boobs and butt and is proud that she earned the money to pay for them. Chrissy Teigen recently joked that: ‘Everything about me is fake except my cheeks,’ calling the lipo she had done on her armpits ‘the dumbest thing I’ve done.’
But that requires a strong sense of self and absolute conviction in your decision. It sounds like your friend isn’t there yet, that she’s likely too embarrassed to admit that she’s had various procedures and mortified that it’s so noticeable, maybe even ‘bad work.’ I can understand how you feel – excluded, patronised perhaps, lied to – but really this is a time when she needs your quiet support, not a bare-bulb interrogation. The accepted etiquette when someone publicly alters their looks and doesn’t mention it is to say nothing. Like you, I would be gnawing at the bit for confirmation but you know what, it’s none of our business.
Remember, that despite her fixed expression and new lips, she is still the same person inside. She will come to you in time. And if she doesn’t, if Botox and fillers are her gateway drugs to more extreme surgical procedures then treat her denial as a personal test in self betterment. As Emily Dickinson wrote: ‘Saying nothing…sometimes says the most.’ It’s just so bloody hard! Good luck.
Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart. If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it. Write to Rhona at [email protected]