The topic at the botox party was testicles. "A friend of mine makes her boyfriend wax his — otherwise she won't put them in her mouth," says Jennifer DeMarchi, as she holds an ice pack to her newly injected forehead. The cheerful, effervescent blonde, a publicist, thinks scrotal waxing — or "scwaxing," as she calls it — would be a profitable sideline for one of her spa clients. Andrew, a 35-ish financial adviser and one of the few men at today's inject-athon, muses out loud about the possibilities of shooting up Down There. "I mean, they're kind of wrinkled. Maybe there's a way to inject Botox so the wrinkles relax, and they're more filled out — and bigger," he adds wistfully.
He's kidding. I think.
I am here at the Sagamore Hotel in South Beach, FL, for the first — and by no means the last — "Botox and Lox" party. The idea of a Botox party is not new; for years, women have been gathering their friends in their doctors' offices for champagne, canapés, and neurotoxins. What is new is taking the party out of a medical setting and putting it in the far more convivial atmosphere of a spa or hotel. Generally, people at a hotel are in a celebratory mood to begin with; certainly today, getting injected in a sun-drenched penthouse suite while receiving mani-pedis and sipping numbing "bikini-tinis" with one's bagels and lox only adds to that what-the-hell feeling. "We think Botox parties might become a fun alternative to bridal showers — or maybe divorce parties," says Neil Sazant, owner of the hotel.
The market seems ready: In 2000, Americans received about 787,000 Botox injections. By 2006, that number had increased 420 percent, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Professional organizations like the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery officially frown (watch those wrinkles!) on injecting Botox in "casual social settings." And even a drug with a 20-plus-year safety record like Botox isn't exactly foolproof — just ask anyone who's ended up spending months looking either perpetually startled or like a Shar-Pei.
But such concerns are far from the minds of the women gathered here. Most are younger-generation socialites in Miami, on the boards of museums and private-school PTAs. They take care of themselves. Boy, do they take care of themselves. I've never felt older and fatter than during my two days in South Beach. But while these women's average weight is 100 pounds, of which 30 pounds is implants, consider this: How obsessed would you be if you lived in a climate that pretty much mandated that you be half-naked most of the year?
"This is so fun and social," says Joi Fiske, who had just the tiniest drops of blood emerging from where the needle pierced her already-smooth forehead. "And you have, like, this solidarity with your friends," adds Kristen Munroe, who passed on the Botox today — she's pregnant — but was getting her toes painted a pearly pink.
I haven't seen a group of women this giddy since I attended a Tupperware-like party hosted by a company that sold vibrators. Indeed, there is something transgressive — dirty, even — about getting shot up with a muscle-paralyzing poison in a hotel room. I should know. Although I'm not partaking today, on a few occasions I've had Botox and Restylane injected in hotel suites. And while everything was always aboveboard, there existed that delicious whiff of impropriety, as if at any minute wah-wah music from a porn movie could start up in the background, and the polite man who is literally saving your skin could suddenly be overcome, tearing off his crisp white coat.
At today's party, that man is Dr. Lee A. Gibstein, a Miami-by-way-of-Harvard plastic surgeon. Women adore him; they look for excuses to touch his hand or pat him on the cheek. It's the kind of reverence usually reserved for their OB/GYNs — but hey, those guys never helped them pass for 30 when they were 40.
Whatever reservations some plastic surgeons and dermatologists have about making a muscle paralyzer into a party favor, public opinion — and demand — are winning the day. In Texas, for example, cosmetic-surgery offices have opened in malls, right next to stores like Sephora, and some respected, old-school doctors have begun to defend such practices.
Sure, the industry sees the opportunity for quick profit: The Sagamore plans to offer "Botox and Lox" packages starting at $750 per person, depending on the scope of the services. But Gibstein, at least, is not cavalier about the medical implications. "With injectables," he says, "the biggest medical risk is fainting — sometimes people just get scared. But if I were going to do anything in a hotel on a regular basis [today was a promotion], I would have some basic medical equipment, like a heart-rate monitor, oxygen, a medical-waste basket." I, for one, would be happy to know that my bloody needles are not being chucked with my empty bottles of Veuve Clicquot.
Judging from the women visiting the Sagamore today, there doesn't seem to be too much hesitation about these kinds of arrangements. Why not take medicine out of the doctor's office and locate it comfortably near a bar and a pool? A couple of drinks and Botox are not necessarily a dangerous thing — unless, of course, it's the doctor doing the drinking.
"Sure, I'd have laser treatment at a hotel if it were available by the right doctor. Why not?" says one deeply tanned brunette, waving her champagne glass. "I don't think I'd have, like, surgery, though." She thinks for a few seconds, looking at the plush leather sofas, the killer sound system, the enormous flat-screen TV. "Well, I don't know. I suppose if they could get the right machinery in here ... it would just be so pleasant."