Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/3/2015 (2287 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This is what it feels like, to have a liquid facsimile of time punctured through the skin and spurted under your eye: nothing. It feels like nothing.
OK, maybe you can feel a little. An occasional cold pop, a fleeting sharp flicker. But the sensations aren't painful, and they don't linger.
"Here's another pinch," says the nurse with the needle, but the pinch never comes. The nerves there are too quieted, too numbed; they bear this indignity in silence. Another wonder of medical science, that a swipe of anesthetic cream can so easily transform part of your body into just a part, an unfeeling... thing.
Maybe that's what the highlight reels of culture do, too. Endless billboards and glossies of models increasingly younger than you, advertising copy barking orders to declare war on your own cells. Fight tough signs of aging. Stage a wrinkle revolution. Combat, repair, and above all, protect.
Soldier up, human, it's a battle out there. The enemy won't stop marching but you, at least, can go down swinging.
In the mid-1930s, two scientists in New York discovered a certain molecule in the goop of a cow's eyeball. They called it hyaluronic acid, and in time researchers found it all over our bodies: in cartilage, in fluids, in skin. It is a cellular jack of many trades, speeding wound-healing and helping cells grow and spread.
Sixty years after it was discovered, cosmetic surgeons started injecting hyaluronic acid into wrinkles and folds. They were searching for a filler that improved on simple animal-derived collagen, and these new types were a hit: In the two decades since, the global market has swelled into billions of dollars.
By 2010, Health Canada had approved 30 brands of hyaluronic acid fillers for cosmetic use, and I believe at least a few more have come online since.
It's not a miracle product. The effects last about a year, and there are risks: In 2010, Health Canada cautioned it had received 32 reports of adverse effects, ranging from bruising to partial loss of vision, and the death of patches of skin if the filler is accidentally injected into a blood vessel by improper hands.
So yes, you can fight against time, so long as you never lose sight of the fact you are pushing back against an unstoppable tide.
When I was about 29, I started thinking about getting cosmetic fillers injected under my eyes. Time was beginning to hollow my face, leaving my eyes framed by gathering blue shadows and empty bags. I thought I'd just been a bad soldier, the failure was mine: drink more water, sleep better; they'll be fine.
Four years later, those same hollows gnawed at my cheeks, sent them plunging over the cliff of my lower orbital bones. As if a skull could smile, I thought, and everyone could see. "You look tired," some friend would coo, almost every day, and I'd think but never say -- that's just my face.
I'd never paid much mind to the planes of my face, having realized long ago that, for me, looks held no trade. But time fills you up, and it takes things away: My partner didn't think I looked tired, just sad. "You've lived through some things," he would shrug, "and it shows."
So this is how I came to end up in a taupe medical chair at a local clinic, kneading a stress ball between worried fingers. Thinking about Margaret Atwood, about the world she imagined in Oryx and Crake, dotted with petal-pink cosmeceutical compounds branded with aspirational names. AnooYoo.
The woman who performs my injections exudes competency. She is calm as a mountain pool. I like her right away. She notes with concern my "severe case," as if the disease is empty space and the patient is terminal. In a way, that's true: For what ails my eyes now, there is palliation. Never a cure.
I write this for you, because for all the explosive popularity of the multibillion-dollar cosmetic injectables industry, we don't talk about it often. When we do, it's often mocking, as when an actor turns up on the red carpet with strained and swollen cheeks.
As if she is the problem, the fool, and not the industry that demands she remain one way forever. Storyless, young as a new moon, fresh as dew.
So me? I have no problem going public to say: I scanned the consent form, fought off images posted online of unhappy patients and signed my eye bags away.
The procedure felt like nothing, but when it was over, my mind still reacted as an animal wounded, hungry to retreat to some private space. "I can't really see a difference," I told the practitioner, though I wasn't really looking. Mostly, after the tension of sensation-less pricks, I just felt relieved.
After I paid, I scurried back to my car, tilted the rear-view mirror down and, yes, I am pleased. The change is subtle, but my fingertips brush the edge of my eye sockets, and for the first time in years, feel a soft veil over bone. There is a life in my eyes that, for so long, I saw only in decade-old photos. Youth is wasted on the young, as the saying goes, and this time around I weep with joy over what I see. Not a new me, but a revived memory.
The reactions from loved ones were varied. "Yeah, I guess it looks better," my partner said, squinting. My best friend was more enthused: the eyes (my eyes? Oh, how your body becomes an assemblage of parts) look much brighter, he said, and that's all I wanted. Brighter, more lively, more ready to meet the world.
Time fills you up, and it takes things away. I write these words only to say: However you wear the stories it gives you, however you choose to handle the way culture seeks to conscript you into this battle, it's OK. It's OK.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.