I had a great-grandmother who lived to be 104 years old. Geegee was thrice widowed, and at her 100th birthday party, she told me her decades-long bedtime routine: Remove her makeup, followed by her wig, glasses and jewelry. “It’s a good thing I’m not married anymore,” she lamented. “My husband wouldn’t know who he was getting into bed with after I removed my facade.”
Facade. It’s a concept I have struggled with in my professional life. After graduating from college, I was the only female equities trader – handling millions of dollars – in an office full of men.
At the time, I just wanted to be taken seriously, maintain an air of professionalism and look older than my 22-year-old, 5-foot-1-inch self. So, I went for the most boring suits, clunky, corporate low heels, and simple jewelry. Still, I was often mistaken for an intern, or once, the boss’s daughter.
In my 30s, I embraced most of the “normal” anti-aging routines. I wore sunscreen, used eye cream, and occasionally treated myself to a facial. So, it was with a bit of a shock when I learned just this year at the age of 47 that I may have totally missed the boat on what some of my friends consider “preventative anti-aging maintenance.”
During a recent trip to my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, I reconnected with two former colleagues who have become dear friends. These two women, who are incredible at their jobs as management consultants, also happen to be super fit and drop-dead gorgeous. They’re also 12 and 17 years my junior. Over cocktails and appetizers, the talk about work and life turned into a candid conversation about their Botox use. “WHAT?” I asked, genuinely confused. “But you’re so young!”.
These two amazing friends walked me through their decision for using Botox in their 20s and 30s. They compared estheticians, pricing, and approach much like you’d discuss gym memberships or IRA portfolios. I was floored. Was I missing something?
Heading home, as I examined my forehead in the rearview mirror of my car, I had an even bigger bombshell of a thought – that life had somehow flashed by and I suddenly went from trying to look older, straight to trying to look younger.
I’m not the only one. To combat ageism in the workplace, I’ve learned some women in their 40s and beyond are turning to Botox, fillers and non-invasive procedures to feel more youthful, believing it enhances their ability to be more competitive at work.
I was genuinely intrigued about my options. So, on a journey I went, trying to find any and all preventive or anti-aging treatments that didn’t involve a needle in my forehead. The truth is, I’m a little scared of needles, and a lot scared of the shame of pursuing first-world solutions to battle the inevitable march of time.
I began to ask all of my friends with incredible skin about their beauty regimens. I was Instagram-influenced to buy the Droplette micro-infuser, whose twice daily serum capsules beat the price of regular Botox treatments. I purchased a Jade roller and placed it in my freezer. I went for a ginger-tinted conditioner to hide my dull blondes (what redheads get instead of grays). And I found myself at the pharmacy with a shopping cart full of disposable face masks, face serums and lip plumpers.
I was in search of the perfect professional appearance: commanding presence, earned laugh lines… but not too old. I want to come across as innovative and energetic, but also a serious leader who has earned her stripes, er, wrinkles, from a lifetime of important experiences.
Frustrated by my lack of “progress” several months later, I asked a friend since 7th grade about how she viewed aging and wrinkles. “I just got bangs,” she said simply.
Just as I was having a ‘Should I or shouldn’t I Botox’ inner dialogue, one of my favorite podcasts, “We Should Talk About That,” did a fantastic episode on Botox. One of the two hosts, Jess Kidwell, got Botox without a second thought. The other host, Jess Buchanan (whose incredible story of survivalafter being held ransom for 93 days by Somali pirates)led her to embrace the natural aging process at 40. Then a few years later, she began to second-guess herself on a self-imposed Botox Ban. She, too, eventually went for it.
Kidwell dug deeper. “I think Botox isn’t only about looking younger. I think it’s about success. Or looking successful. It’s like the new designer handbag or the suit that you bought at Bloomingdale’s. It’s a superfluous luxury that messages you have reached a level of success so that you can actually think about those crows' feet and rid them away.”
Is that really true?
"I think women face enormous pressure for the content of their ideas to match the container. To look and act and speak the part, which is a balance of fresh-faced, new ideas and earned wisdom,” she said. “But it's not about the age, it's about stepping into your work identity with confidence: earning respect for the ideas you bring forward powerfully, balanced with creating space for others to weigh in."
So many women, whether they get Botox, fillers, or nothing at all, struggle with the aging process. So how do you feel confident, no matter what your routine or plan is?
1. Let go of the shame.
First off, you do you. Women of all ages, as I now know, do many different things in the pursuit of enhancing their appearance. You may not want to do the same, and that’s fine. To quote Amy Poehler, say to yourself, “good for her, not for me.” If you get a lip injection or a brow tuck or an eyelash perm and it makes you feel good, well that’s money and time well spent.
2. Stop looking at yourself.
I mean it. Stop agonizing over the “fat pictures” of you on social media. Turn your return monitor off on Zoom and Teams so you’re not staring at yourself all day. Delete those airbrushing and filter apps. You are perfectly you. Embrace that.
3. There is no perfect age.
You’re not chasing 28 or 40 or whatever in the back of your mind is the “perfect” age to be; or appear to be. Do what makes you feel like you. Do what gives you confidence to take up space and leave the mark you want to leave in the world. “I think it’s about power,” said Kidwell. For me, it's about being comfortable in my own skin. Do what gives you power.
4. Admire what your body CAN do.
Whenever I feel down about aging, I remember what my father told me, “it beats the heck out of the alternative.” This week my body, the one with a wrinkly forehead and eye bags and age spots, did a number of things I couldn’t do 15 or 20 years ago. I played a 90-minute game of full-field soccer. I biked 20 miles in the freezing rain with my husband. I touched my toes and breathed deeply during my daily yoga flow. These accomplishments, not my shortcomings, are what I sit with.
My internal debate on aging has really made me appreciate the open, honest discussion women can have about embracing the inevitable. While I remain Botox-curious, I have yet to make an appointment with an esthetician. For now, I'm doubling down on sunscreen and hats. There's collagen powder in my morning coffee. And I went for bangs, for now.
Jennifer Folsom is vice president of growth at ICF Next. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband Ben and has three teenage sons. Her practical guide to modern working motherhood," The Ringmaster," is out now.