Can We Please Stop Talking About Botox In Front Of Our Kids?

I know I’m not alone when I say I deeply want my children to have a positive relationship with their bodies, from the way they look to the amount of space they take up and the way they change over time. It’s why I cringe so hard every time Botox comes up in front of a child.

Approved by the FDA in 2002 to temporarily paralyze the muscles in the face that contribute to wrinkles, the $4.3 billion industry is slated to grow more than 10% per year through 2035. So yeah, it sure seems like the conversation is here to stay and, perhaps, getting louder.

I’m absolutely not here to judge people who take part in anti-aging treatments. It’s just that when adults talk about the time and money they spend to erase all signs of aging with Botox or lasers or even makeup, it doesn’t exactly set kids up for unadulterated self-acceptance 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.

Even as I opt into anti-aging efforts myself — I’m not immune to our messed-up culture, where “old” and “ugly” are basically synonymous — I want better for my kids. If only I could shield them from age bias entirely, maybe they wouldn’t think twice in the future about how they see themselves.

Since I’m a mom, not a maven, I asked Zoë Bisbing, LCSW, therapist and creator of Body-Positive Home, for a little guidance here.

Is participating in anti-aging culture really messing up our kids?

Bisbing’s answer is, well, maybe. “The way we choose to use our precious time and resources speaks volumes to our kids, and you don’t know who is going to really start obsessing about their wrinkles and the way they look 30 years from now because of it,” she tells me.

The scary part? We’re not the only ones contributing to our kids’ understanding of and ability to accept aging. “Kids are opening the medicine cabinet and seeing anti-aging wrinkle creams next to toothpaste, but it’s also in the fabric of our environment,” she says. Like anti-fat bias, age bias isn’t just learned at home; it’s embedded in our kids subconsciously through a lack of representation in the media. After all, as The New York Times Culture section writer Amanda Hess so eloquently pointed out a few years ago, “For most actresses over 50, the alternative to plastic surgery is not graceful aging but obsolescence.”

The bottom line: We’re not just teaching our kids that aging is gross every time we slather on our retinol or miss a softball game for a Botox appointment; age bias brews all around kids no matter what we say or do — even more reason for us to be intentional about the kind of values we want to instill in our kids.

Even though old age may seem light years away for little ones, Bisbing tells me that the way we talk about our aging bodies in front of them could still set the stage for how they process more imminent bodily changes. (Cue puberty.) So, no one is off the hook.

Why are we all so obsessed with anti-aging?

There’s a reason we can’t stop talking about our wrinkles, age spots, and grays and how to get ahead of ’em.

“The older we get, the further we are from this construct of what an ideal body type should be, and the more marginalized we become,” Bisbing tells me. (Again? Blame culture.) “It’s this shared experience of losing the ‘capital’ we had as a young, beautiful person, where you can either do what you can to stay young-looking, or say, ‘I’m not going to engage,’ which comes with the loss of privilege,” she says. And none of us are here for that.

Worth noting? The way aging looks is only one part of it. “Confronting morality is hard,” Bisbing spells out. “It’s fundamentally important for us to talk about it with one another about the general experience of getting older and all of its difficulties.”

Would it help if we just stopped talking about aging altogether?

Bisbing insists the answer is no — a good thing since I honestly don’t know how I’d connect with other moms if I had to go cold turkey on some of my favorite topics, like generalized exhaustion and how long hangovers now linger after one (one!) glass of wine.

However, there are a few themes we should let fall by the wayside, Bisbing tells me. “When you talk negatively about yourself, you’re normalizing self-deprecation and giving that inner voice to your kid,” she says. “If we stopped talking about bodies, everyone’s body image would improve.”

Whether you slip up with a seemingly benign comment or full-on blurt out “OLD BAG,” It’s never too late to reconcile and correct the record for kids standing by. Try, “What I just said about myself was mean. I’m working hard to be nicer to myself. Does this ever happen to you?”

Explains Bisbing, “Creating a teachable moment takes some pressure off to get it perfect every time.”

Is there any kosher body talk?

No one is saying we have to pretend bodies and all of their weird nuances don’t exist! “Bodies are cool. Marveling at them and all the unexpected things they do is net neutral, and it makes space for grief to process what it is to be a human and change,” Bisbing says.

To that point, it’s OK to laugh about changes along the way… like how your boobs will never go back to the way they were before kids. “That’s using humor in a constructive, therapeutic way to process change.”

Speaking of change, the best way to model resilience for kids who have big changes to come is to acknowledge what you’re seeing in the mirror — with neutrality. Try, “My body is changing, and I’m trying to accept myself.” (Sure beats, “Ugh, delete this face!”)

How do I teach my kids to accept themselves and not be a hypocrite when I don’t?

Eager ears mean we’ve got questions to answer when we take part in anti-aging treatments. It’s not easy to explain why Mommy wants to change her face without affecting a kid’s internal dialogue and potentially doing irreparable damage to their own self-esteem.

The struggle, as they say, is real. “There is engaging in anti-aging behaviors, and there’s the culture of celebrating, normalizing, and talking about it,” Bisbing points out. And it’s possible to take part in the former but not the latter by laying out your own internal conflicts when explaining your behaviors to older children. Try, “I’m doing this because I feel insecure, but I’m working on not wanting it, and I struggle with it. I want you to know because one day you might feel conflicted, too, and you get to choose for yourself.”

If you think any of these are one-and-done convos, though, guess again. “You want to plant seeds in 100 one-minute conversations like, ‘We live in this culture, and part of what’s hard is this idea that we are all supposed to look a certain way, except we can’t all have the same body and we can’t all stay young,” Bisbing suggests.

The goal is to equip your kids with a sense of body autonomy so they can think critically about how they want to spend their time and money when they are grown and in your shoes. While this all sounds like a lot of work, consider the alternative: “Complete abstinence taught from a high horse doesn’t teach as much,” she states. She’d rather teach her kids to be safe (i.e., get injections from a dermatologist) than pretend the anti-aging industry doesn’t exist. “You don’t need to draw attention to it, but you don’t need to hide it.”

Because at the end of the day? “We all get old,” shares Bisbing. “Normalizing that is a wonderful thing, and it’s more protective than anything else.”

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