Dr. M wasn’t my doctor; he was my student. Normally at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning, we were in his office having English class. But today, I was lying on the big black chair in his clinic, trying to keep calm as he prepped a needle.
Dr. M was Turkey’s most prolific Botox practitioner. He had a certificate above his desk from the Botox suppliers recognizing the record number of vials he’d administered, mostly to Turkish TV stars and society women. He appeared regularly on the Turkish equivalent of Oprah, the host of which he had filled with youth-enhancing chemicals.
As an English teacher, I taught a lot of rich Turkish people and their children, but Dr. M was my first near-celebrity. Located in the fanciest part of Istanbul, Nişantaşı (the Turkish Beverly Hills), the Director (who I also taught) would sometimes introduce me to perfectly made-up, glossy-looking actresses or TV personalities. I never had any idea who they were because I’m British, but I still felt underdressed and out-of-place in their world in this swanky clinic with walls of expensive beauty products.
Dr. M needed English to talk about the non-surgical procedures he offered to international clients. To teach him, first I had to learn the words and the concepts behind the treatments myself, things like thread lifts, dermabrasion, chemical peels and mesotherapy. For class, I would bring a set of before and after pictures for that day’s topic and he would explain what it was, why a patient might have it, the benefits and, sometimes, which celebrities he knew had had it done.
Often, in order to demonstrate his point, he would point out how I would benefit from a treatment. My enlarged pores? A peel. Those creases on my forehead I’d hoped no one could see? Botox. The deepening line from one side of my nose to the corner of my mouth that I hadn’t noticed was there? That could be plumped out with fillers.Often, in order to demonstrate his point, he would point out how I would benefit from a treatment. My enlarged pores? A peel.
“Would a face peel strip my skin back to red shiny burn victim’s skin?” I asked. “Would it leave me, I mean, one needing to bandage one’s face to go outside for a month?” He assured me it wouldn’t, and he let me try a blob of the acidic cream on the back of my hand. I didn’t feel anything, but it left behind a patch of glass smooth skin when I washed it off a few minutes later. I took a sample sachet home.
“Which procedure is the best?” I asked another day for a revision lesson on what we’d covered so far. “Botox!” he said. He had had it done and he did his mother’s, he said, and not only did it get rid of lines, it stopped new ones from forming and made the skin shine with health. It was true that for a junk food and caffeine-addicted insomniac, he looked pretty good. “And, er, how much does that cost?” I asked.
The price of one Botox treatment, I calculated, was nine English lessons. I offered the exchange, and he accepted, probably delighted to be getting so many free lessons for the bulk ordered Botox he surely got a huge discount on.
We covered Botox in subsequent classes so I knew what to expect. He would inject it into my forehead at certain points, including between my eyebrows where I didn’t need it and at the corners of my eyes to prevent the crow’s feet I didn’t have. It would sting a bit, and then I would feel like I had Scotch tape (I had to tell him that term) on my skin. He was a pro, so he would allow me to keep slight movement of my eyebrows but not the area above.
What I hadn’t expected (and wouldn’t have guessed would matter) was that his beginner’s English would mean no doctor’s banter as he carried out the injections. There’s a reason most people have never heard the sound a hypodermic needle makes as it breaks the skin: Doctors and nurses usually cover it with meaningless chatter or by telling you what they’re doing. I endured every prick of the needle in silence, scared to speak in case he switched concentration from my face to what verb tense I was using and paralysed half my face. So I can tell you what it sounds like: bubble wrap popping.
Perhaps Dr. M too realised I hadn’t adequately prepared him for the situation because he stopped taking lessons right after that. The effect of the Botox was as short-lived as our teaching relationship — it wore off after only two weeks, and the forehead creases never vanished entirely, except now I was more aware of them than ever. I think now I was lucky that his English wasn’t better, as I surely would have had more Botox in the quest for the kind of perfection that the celebrity world demands.
All it had taken to make me think I needed chemicals injected into my face to be more beautiful was the scrutiny of one person. No wonder celebrities get fillers and lifts and tucks to ward off the critical eye of millions of people. If our lessons had continued, I am sure he would have convinced me to get every procedure on the list. Even though Dr. M was supposed to be the student, I was the one that really learned something: If someone points out your flaws, don’t listen to them.