Oh vanity / by Vanessa Fiola

**The next 17 days I'll be posting 500 words a day here as part of a creative writing challenge. Join the FB group.”

Partial list of things I have tried in the name of vanity: 

  • Injecting needles into my calf to erase traces of unfortunate track accident (doesn’t work)
  • Mesotherapy (also doesn’t work)
  • Braces
  • Actual snail mucus on my face in the form of serums and masks
  • Horse placenta, also serum
  • Light therapy
  • Electropulse therapy, or somesuch
  • Light chemical peel which didn't actually feel light
  • $9,000 at a celebrity facialist who probably hates kittens, rainbows, happiness and babies
  • Literally, yoga
  • Facial acupuncture (to be fair, I’ve been trying this for at least 5 years now)
  • Injections

I need to unpack that last one. Two years ago I was working in Nashville a lot—flying back and forth from LA every few days for a few months. I had developed deep folds around of my mouth, because age, but also exacerbated by unintended rapid weight loss, travel and lack of sleep. I looked ratchet.

I don’t really identify as insecure but then, I don’t really identify as defensive either, so who knows. I am generally confident and rarely needy. I am plagued by anxiety but also, not, you know? Yet, one return trip home I found myself reading Vogue on the plane and came across an article about injections. I looked up the Santa Monica doctor quoted in the article when I landed and made the first available appointment: two months out. 

The release forms spell out the chances: roughly 1 to 2 people out of every 100 will suffer adverse effects. For scale, you have about the same odds of being an adult who showers less than once a week or considers track and field to be their favorite sport. I wasn’t worried.

The doctor told me I would look like myself, just less tired. When I first got the injections I could not believe that something so magical existed, for the price of just 150 lattes. I immediately took a selfie with my favorite tiny human.

If you live in Los Angeles, then you have met 25-year olds who are four years deep into Botox. It is so common here that the look of injections has cultivated its own standard of beauty. (See: Jenner lips.) The fact that it is more common than going to church does not stop people from lying about it. I regaled in my new fullness, but I also pre-empted conversations about my skin by saying that I’ve gained so much weight my face looks fat. In retrospect, I am a complete idiot.

By the time I returned to Nashville, two small, hard bumps appeared on my right cheek at the site of one of the injections. My friend implored me to call my doctor when the bumps turned into marbles. They continued to grow, and after another day I called. 

The front desk thought I was scheming to get an emergency appointment for more injections so they booked me for a month out. This is a city where you have to pay $12,000 a year just to retain the privilege to have your MD call you if there’s a problem*. (*Treatment not included.) I know, I wouldn't believe me either, I'm one of them now. Nevertheless, I persisted. Finally the nurse called and asked me to send her pictures. I sat in the parking lot of a taqueria at lunch, huddled away from my coworkers and the general public, and texted a picture of the growths who had set up residency on my face. The doctor called me immediately. She prescribed antibiotics and told me to come in as soon as I got home. She could dissolve the injections with another injection. FYI, when this happens you get neither your dignity nor your money back. 

Ironically, the doctor casually dropped that the folds around my mouth are more likely caused by clenching my jaw at night. “Have you ever tried meditation?” she asked. 

Touché, doctor. Touché.