I used to imagine that the biggest barrier to self-esteem must be the act of getting ghosted immediately after sending nudes. Or having your 3am search history leaked. Or even discovering that you’re related to Piers Morgan.
That was pre-pandemic. Having spent the past year subsisting on Zoom, I’ve come to realise that true indignity is observing your own face during life’s more challenging moments. It’s a period in which I’ve had the displeasure of seeing myself on screen during work calls, online therapy and even a job interview. None of it has been pretty.
Living through a pandemic is the diametric opposite of a glow-up. I’ve perfected the performance of active listening while actually counting my crows feet (it’s the heightened version of counting sheep — instead of making you want to fall asleep, it makes you want to die). Around month two I began entertaining nightmarish fantasies of emerging back into the world only to be ignored by friends and colleagues, who failed to recognise the frenzy of frown lines and anxiety vibrating towards them. Around month three I began experimenting with Zoom’s ‘touch up my appearance’ function. By the start of month four I began frantically googling when Botox injections would be legal again.
Unusually for lockdown, I was not alone. Last year, UK plastic surgeons reported a 70 per cent rise in men requesting video consultations, with injectable procedures such as Botox and fillers proving most popular. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has nicknamed this phenomenon ‘the Zoom boom’ as endless video meetings have forced men to confront their own haggardness. A recent survey revealed that 11 per cent of men believed that lockdown had aged them by five years.
William, 34, who works in fashion became self-conscious about his frown lines during lockdown and has since had them injected with dermal fillers, at a cost of £450. ‘If you’re going to bother curating your bookshelves, you might as well make sure your face looks alright.’
So I make an appointment to visit Dr David Jack, a leading aesthetic doctor and the co-author of Vain Glorious: A Shameless Guide For Men Who Want To Look Their Best. At his Harley Street clinic, he tells me he has noticed a sharp increase in men seeking tweaks. ‘The lighting and camera angle on Zoom makes any volume change in the face a lot more obvious than when you’re looking in the mirror. I’m in consultation with a lot of men who wouldn’t previously have sought treatment,’ he says. ‘Men are noticing their under-eye and lower face areas a lot more.’
Men used to make up about 20-25 per cent of Jack’s client base, ‘but there was a day last week when it was closer to 50 per cent’. Has he noticed any change in the male demographic? ‘When I started 13 years ago, all of the men who came in were gay. Now they’re about 70 per cent straight. They want to look healthy but they absolutely don’t want to look like they’ve had anything done.
I’ve dabbled in Botox since my mid-20s, initially as a preventative measure. Like most of my gestures towards self care (eating fruit if genuinely nothing else available, occasionally doing a press-up, muting anyone on Instagram with the audacity to have abs) my approach to injectables has lacked serious commitment. I tell Dr Jack that during lockdown I’ve noticed my face looking as wrung out as my spirit. After a few minutes’ study, he suggests a small amount of filler in my lateral tear trough (just above the cheekbone) and some light Botox in my frown line. Both sets of injections are painless (‘the numbing lotion helps,’ he says), the only slightly grisly element being the quiet crunch as the needle penetrates the tissue.
It’s over quickly. Sitting up, I observe that Jack is the perfect advertisement for his services; fresh-faced but in a relaxed, ‘good genes’ kind of way. Does he use his own treatments? ‘Of course!’ Does he inject himself? ‘All the time.’ I’m surprised he can fit himself in; since reopening after the first lockdown, business has been up by about half. A lot of men who visited after treatments started up again last summer are returning for top-ups, too.
At the end of my appointment I’m told that my treatments should take a few days to settle in, but I arrive home already looking fresher, more revived. Perhaps how I would have looked if I hadn’t spent the past 12 months barking, ‘You’re on mute’, at disgruntled colleagues. Nature is healing. And so am I.