About an hour before my first-ever Botox consultation at GoodSkin, the L.A. anti-aging clinic known for its "untouched" approach to injectables, I mournfully looked at our editorial calendar before deleting a future story titled "Natural TMJ Remedies That Worked for Me." This rough headline had been pushed again and again for months as I exhaustedly tried to address the chronic tension in my jaw—ultimately to no avail. I was bummed, to be sure, that after months of self-massage, aromatherapy, and tackling the source of my stress in meaningful ways, I hadn't found the noninvasive solution I was looking for. At the same time, though the prospect of getting Botox in my jaw was my Hail Mary, I had a sneaking suspicion that it would be the technique that would finally give me the relief I craved.
So I found myself sitting opposite Lauren Pack at GoodSkin as she expertly ran her fingers along my jaw and chin, noting the anatomy of my face, before lobbing a question that seemed only slightly out of left field. "Do you have any issues with your posture?" she asks. I laughed in response because my perpetually slumped shoulders might be even more irksome than my stiff jaw.
"I can give you jaw Botox," she said. "But I'd like to put some in your neck as well." I sat there, riveted, as she explained that by dosing my neck, she'd prevent those muscles from overcompensating for my jaw, something that could actually worsen my so-called "text neck." What was more, she said, was that it would encourage me to shift that work to my core muscles and pull my shoulders back, correcting my posture and even potentially giving my abs a nice workout in the process. "So in a way, you could almost say that Botox can give you a toned stomach," she half-joked.
My intrigue took over and I wasted no time in making a follow-up appointment. Two weeks later, I was sitting in the exact same chair, wincing slightly as Pack plunged syringes into my jaw and then my neck and finally my shoulders.
As she did so, she clarified that this wasn't a magic potion that would relieve everything that ailed me (including, apparently, un-toned abs). I'd also have to engage in what she called retraining exercises, simple tips and movements that would help me work the right muscles as the injected ones began to relax. When I was driving, for example, she recommended that I focus on pressing my tongue to the roof of my mouth in order to relax my jaw and to roll my shoulders back so that my neck would follow—basically, the antithesis of being hunched over my phone. In other words, the Botox would give me a head start, but I'd still have to put a little effort in to fix years of jaw-clenching and terrible posture. Fair enough.
A week later, I was breathlessly waiting for any kind of indication that the Botox had kicked in. Then I began to feel it in twinges and aches. My neck began to feel exponentially sorer as I scrolled through Instagram. Slouching in general began to feel uncomfortable, and I was shocked to feel relief as I sat up straight and rolled my shoulders back. This, Pack reiterated over email, was all very normal.
"When the muscle is weakened and you are in that position, you will become sore quicker, which is a good thing," she wrote. "It will remind you to not be in that position. [And ultimately], it can definitely provide relief for muscles that are radiating into the back or head and causing muscle aches or headaches."
Appeased to know that things were working beneath the surface, I turned my attention to aesthetics: specifically, that my jawline had grown subtly sharper over the course of a few days. The image above was taken about a week after my appointment, and while it's apparent that my shoulders are still overdeveloped from slouching (and my posture still needs work), it was while posting this photo that I noticed more definition in the lower half of my face. Then, I instinctively tried to relax my jaw before noticing that it wasn't clenched in the first place—a sensation that felt completely foreign to me.
I'd have to wait a few more weeks to see changes in my shoulders, posture, and core, during which Pack advised me to continue my fitness regimen as usual in order to see the biggest impact. "If your neck isn't recruiting while working out, then your core will have a better chance of activating," she explained. "A stronger core also equals better posture."
While I can't exactly claim that Botox gave me a six-pack, I ultimately realized just how true it is that the quickest, cheapest way to look longer and leaner is to stand up straight. As my shoulder muscles began to lose their bulk and my neck learned to stop pitching forward, suddenly it was easier to see definition in my midsection—not because I was hitting the gym any harder but because I was carrying myself differently.
The visual gratification has been undeniably nice, especially after years of critiquing my hunched appearance in photos. (I was sure I was standing up straight!) But to me, addressing my physical manifestations of stress was the end goal I hadn't necessarily anticipated reaching. I certainly couldn't have imagined it in the hours before that initial consultation, when I wondered if my clenched jaw was a hopeless case.
I have read studies that illustrate just how much we "store" and internalize tension (and even emotion) in our physical bodies, which in turn feeds back into our mental state, an endless loop of psychosomatic pressure. It's a topic that fascinates me, but to truly experience the flip side of this—what happens when we invert this tension into relaxation—has been a salient reminder that often, addressing chronic stress from a purely physical place is a promising first step to feeling better all around.
Is it a shortcut to use Botox as a means to this end rather than, say, yoga? Perhaps—and not a cheap one, at that. But I also stand by the notion that when offered a tool to find potential relief, there's no use in continuing to suffer on principle.
And the good posture? Well, that's just a sweet bonus.