The Crazy Thing That Happened The First Time I Got Fillers

Design: Anna Sudit.
I don't think anyone, save for a woman in labour, has ever sweat so hard while sitting perfectly still in an air-conditioned room. The crunchy paper on the exam chair had turned to mush and was disintegrating under my legs, my black (thank god) dress was damp with sweat, and my water bottle — my only hope at this point — was slipping out of my clammy hands. The room was starting to move and the lights seemed way too bright, but I couldn't drift away. The show must go on. I wanted my injections, damn it. Two months ago, if you'd asked me if I'd be in the office of dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, getting fillers with one of my best friends, I'd have told you not a chance in hell. Fillers were for getting lips like you-know-whose and adding volume to cheekbones that had lost the collagen reserves of their youth. Fillers only made you fuller. Right? Not so, I learned on a recent trip to Stockholm with Restylane. Sure, many people get dermal fillers — injections of hyaluronic acid in gel form — to enhance their lips and fill out sunken cheekbones and smile lines. Those are the on-label uses, after all. But a large percentage of the ways in which doctors use them are "off-label" (i.e. legal, but not FDA-approved or recommended by the manufacturer), and those are the ones that piqued my interest. On the trip, I watched, with equal parts fascination and nausea, as a Swedish derm completely reshaped patients' jawlines, chins, and noses with a few pushes of the syringe. The effect wasn't plumped so much as sculpted, contoured, sharpened — like a Mario Dedivanovic contour on steroids. I wanted in. My friend, a fellow filler virgin, did, too. (When possible, always employ the buddy system for cosmetic procedures — a true friend will hold your hand and tell you when you're starting to go a bit too far.) So a few weeks ago, we ditched work a few hours early and met at Dr. Bowe's office. I confirmed my friend would be there on time, then gave myself permission to lag a bit — "train delays" — so she'd have to go first. Sorry, boo. You would have thought she was taking a polygraph test as Dr. Bowe was injecting her. Not a flinch, not a squint, not a single flash of emotion. "Does it hurt?" I asked her. "No, you can just hear it popping as it goes in." It certainly wasn't a pleasant description, but fine, whatever. Then, Dr. Bowe chimed in. Something about needles going through muscles and hitting bones, and that's when I knew: I, the girl who has seen every single film in the Saw franchise on opening night, might not be able to handle fillers. But I didn't go to the Upper East Side for nothing, and needles to the face? Psh, been there. So I pushed the images of those skeletons in the Bodies exhibit out of my head and reminded myself of the Linda Wells law: Some needles hurt and some don't. The ones that deliver something you want, like higher cheekbones or a sharper jawline in my case, don't. I'd be fine. Dr. Bowe started on my chin — to balance out some asymmetry and fill in my "pre-jowls," which, yep, is the scariest phrase ever used in relation to my appearance. There was a prick as the needle went in, and then, the "popping" sound as she injected further. The pressure was stronger than I expected; it felt like my muscles were pushing back against a thick sludge. It wasn't painful, but it was a strange new sensation I'd never experienced — and I was very aware of that. Had I been able to get out of my own head, things might have gone smoothly. Also, I should have eaten lunch. Halfway through the second injection is when the vasovagal symptoms started to come on. The room got blurry, I could feel the colour draining from my face, and beads of sweat started popping up on my arms and legs. "I just need a water!" I squeaked out as nonchalantly as I could manage. "Just a sip of water and we can continue!" In the time it took to fill up my bottle, though, I went from slightly sweaty to soaked, from losing colour to being completely drained of it. My body wanted to pass out, but my brain wanted that Kate Moss profile more. So, half a granola bar later, I got it together for cheekbone time. Dr. Bowe used a small amount of Restylane Lyft at the highest point of each cheekbone, right where you'd tap on highlighter. (Of the three products in the Restylane family, Lyft has the largest particles, a.k.a. the heaviest, and gives the greatest volume.) The result was the most subtle lift and sharpening of the protrusion. We had to take another break before the jawline because the sweat and shakiness just wouldn't quit. I didn't understand why I was feeling this way — I wasn't in pain, and I wasn't scared or doing anything I didn't want to be doing. Why was I acting like such a baby? Dr. Bowe assured me that I was just having an uncontrollable, subconscious reaction to a new kind of feeling, that it happens to plenty of people, and that it likely wouldn't happen again the next time (if, that is, I have lunch before coming in). Finally, we made it to the home stretch — which also happened to be the most uncomfortable part. Dr. Bowe injected my jaw, about two inches below the ear and parallel to the cheekbone injection site, and the pressure was strong enough to make me pull back, wince, and grit my teeth. Still, it was only a few notches above your worst facial-extraction experience on the pain scale. My friend and I walked out feeling like our faces had headaches, or sandbags atop them (and the next day wasn't super-fun, either), but the instant results were well worth the discomfort. The fine lines circling my chin like parentheses were filled in (seriously, fuck jowls), my cheekbones were more pronounced, and my jaw was ever-so-slightly more defined. Still embarrassed, though, I emailed Dr. Bowe a few hours after leaving her office to thank her for her patience in dealing with my fainting spell. "Alix," she wrote, "You are incredibly fierce and tenacious. You obviously don't give up easily." Had my muscles not been too sore to smile, I would have laughed. Sure, it was just a few pokes and prods, but those hard-won cheekbones had me thinking about what else I could conquer. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, watch your back.

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