‘Breaking up is GREAT!’ said no one, ever. I should know. In the last six months my 26-year relationship imploded in such dramatic style it floored me physically and mentally. The only positive about it was the high drama with which it unfolded (way more satisfactory for a writer than a conscious uncoupling).
It made me feel sad. Obviously. And s—t. Obviously. While I am accepting that these are appropriate feelings, what I really didn’t want was for it to make me look sad and s—t. I mean, as a beauty journalist, it’s bad for business. Also, looking good was integral to regaining my self-esteem.
We could debate for hours the rights and wrongs of a woman’s self-worth being linked to her appearance (is it self-care or self-sabotage?), but I knew getting my hair, skin and body overhauled would make me feel better. And you can’t argue with your feelings.
You see, the break-up’s effects were not only mental. They were physical too. At 5 ft 10in I’d generally hovered around 10 stone. Within months I was an unhealthy eight. Like many women, I’d spent a lifetime wanting to drop the magic 9lb but, even with the skewed vision of someone who’s worked on women’s magazines, 28lb felt de trop. It made me look drawn. My body looked deflated – like there wasn’t enough of me to fill my skin. Which was how I felt. It was a beauty emergency.
I rang the experts for advice. Dr Tracy Mountford, cosmetic doctor to London’s elite, told me, ‘a bad break-up comes with a huge amount of stress. Stress reduces the hormone DHEA in the body, which is the anti-ageing hormone. So it’s understandable when people say they’ve “aged overnight”.’ She added, ‘Smokers are also likely to get through more cigarettes during a break-up. And this has a very dramatic effect on skin quality, making it appear dull and lifeless.’ Luckily, smoking is not my vice. But then Dr Mountford went on to say, ‘Severe stress at this time may also trigger accelerated weight loss. This has a huge impact on facial volume and can negatively affect your looks. The facial fat pads are key to looking soft and youthful. Any change that reduces them can make the face look prematurely aged and “harder”.’ Not. Good. News.
I’d also been thinking that my consumption of wine and chocolate may not have been helping. I emailed cosmetic doctor Dr Vicky Dondos, a favourite among beauty editors, and she pulled no punches. ‘This will lead to increased glycation in the skin, which impacts elasticity, hydration, pore size and overall clarity.’ I could see the pain etched on my face. Lines across my forehead and a general sagginess that matched the heaviness in my heart. I decided to take action to fight my *sad face*.
My husband had always been against Botox, fillers and tweakments in general – saying he loved me the way I was. (Hmm.) Free of his judgement, I decided to try them. Not out of some desperate attempt to be drastically younger, but because I knew they worked – and I thought, if ever I needed the big guns, it’s now.
First up: Botox. When it comes to a tired, unhappy face, Dr Dondos says start with some carefully positioned Botox. ‘It’s about smoothing the forehead lines, but very lightly so you can still frown. Plus, you can use it to get a brow lift, which is very effective.’ Dr Dondos also uses it around the mouth, targeting the muscles that pull the corners of the lips down. ‘It won’t lift here, but it will make the area look firmer.’ I spent less than 15 minutes in her chair, having 10 or so injections that stung rather than hurt. Within a week I looked considerably younger and fresher: my forehead less creased, my eyes opened up.
Next: Ultherapy, an ultrasound-based facial treatment. Alice Hart-Davis, author of The Tweakments Guide, rates it for its lifting, firming effects. Another beauty editor friend is less convinced: the cost is not insignificant and the results vary from patient to patient. But, reassuringly, it is approved by the FDA (the US government body that ensures the efficacy and safety of food and drugs). I went to The Cosmetic Skin Clinic because they have treated many friends and colleagues brilliantly. The treatment involved a handheld device delivering ultrasound to trigger a regenerating response in the skin.
New technology means it can target skin at the most effective depth, where it stimulates production of collagen and elastin, which in turn leads to skin firming. My aesthetician drew a grid pattern on my face and started zapping, covering an area of a few centimetres with each pass. Each zap felt like a spit of hot fat within my skin – it wasn’t painful in itself, but the repetition can feel overwhelming. I took some painkillers beforehand, which made it bearable. Two months after my treatment, I’m pleased with the results. My face looks lifted and my skin feels taut and toned. Because I’ve combined it with other treatments, I can’t be sure how much of the very definite lift I see can be attributed to Ultherapy alone, but there is visible streamlining.
Penultimately, and most scarily, I booked in for fillers. I’d always been wary of the chipmunk effect, so I was nervous. I visited Dr Mountford who promised me, in her hands, fillers would define the jaw, reduce sag and add youthful plumpness. After assessing my face, she was confident that fillers would deliver ‘structure and contour,’ explaining they act as ‘scaffolding for the face’. ‘Experienced practitioners will inject at different levels within the skin,’ she adds. She likes to inject deep, often on the bone. ‘This causes less swelling, less puffiness.’
She first injected filler into my temples. Temples get sunken with age anyway, but my break-up weight loss has accelerated this. It was an instant win: my face immediately looked more youthful. There’s a weird sensation as the filler goes in, but it’s totally bearable. She then injected along my cheekbones to ‘underpin’, and around my nose to ‘soften’. Afterwards she sent me to her colleague Dr Sophie Shotter, who worked miracles on my soggy jaw, somehow transforming it into something more Jolie-like. The result was a prettier, fresher me. I couldn’t stop staring in the mirror. I looked like I’d spent a month in a spa.
Finally, I booked in with my hairdresser Kiki Koh at John Frieda. Not only is he hilarious (an antidepressant in human form), he is genius at rejuvenation. He symbolically removed the dead ends and created choppy layers that frame and lift the face. His post-cut styling pushes me to embrace a more modern ‘dishevelled’ vibe. This, combined with highlights make me feel a whole lot lighter and brighter. (NB another plus of my salon visit is that people think my newly refreshed look is down to a new haircut rather than a face-load of filler.)
Then, to continue my mission, I order Wild Nutrition’s KSM-66 Ashwagandha Plus supplements, which promise to normalise levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and book in with A-list facialist Sarah Bradden for cosmetic acupuncture. (Sarah promises it will make me ‘feel loved and look loved’. Quite frankly, just emailing her helps). And after my two intensive months of self-investment? I look better. But, more crucially, I feel better.
Perhaps it’s about taking control. Perhaps it’s about investing time in myself. Or perhaps it’s because my mates are telling me I look great and my Instagram is full of nice compliments. With the exception of Ultherapy (the results of which take longer to show and are subtle) I can confidently say every single one of these treatments will become part of my beauty arsenal and all of them delivered serious bang for my buck. *Happy face*.