Boss Tells Autistic Woman to Get Botox to “Fix” Her Natural Facial Expressions – An Interview
I have many frank and honest discussions about the autistic experience on my Instagram page, so I’m no stranger to hearing stories of abuse, bullying, and mistreatment from other autistic people. However, a recent comment on one of my posts stopped me dead in my tracks and had me gaping at my phone screen.
A late-identified autistic woman said that she’d once had a boss who told her to get Botox in order to “fix” her natural facial expressions! Angry on her behalf and eager to hear her full story, I asked if I could interview her anonymously for this blog, and she agreed.
This is her story. (I’ll call her “Linda” for the sake of the narrative.)
Linda worked for a certain corporation for five years and was promoted into a new role in the company because she was not only considered the target demographic for the item being sold, but she’d had firsthand experience with it. For her new role, she would be expected to travel to educate the company’s target audience.
I asked Linda to describe the incident that led to her boss telling her to get Botox to “fix her face”.
This is what she had to say:
“Development of this category required partnerships with the company at large. One of the first ‘big’ meetings with top leadership ended with me being told by my direct supervisor that I should get Botox to ‘not look so terrified’ in these meetings.”
“I said I wasn’t terrified, I was listening, processing, and taking notes. She said, “Regardless, it would help your face, and you’ll thank me later”. I said, “You’re kidding, right”? She said, “Oh, no, I’m serious. You need to get Botox. You’ll look more professional”.
I asked Linda how she felt both emotionally and mentally after being told to get Botox.
This is what she said:
“I was really shocked. But, I had been given this opportunity to grow my career, and it was absolutely implied that I needed to look the part in all ways while representing them.”
She realized later on that the relationship she’d had with her boss was toxic, and that the businesswomen in her field that she’d looked up to never really had her back or cared about her at all.
Also, this wasn’t the first time a woman in an “authoritative” role had given Linda advice on her physical appearance that was supposed to somehow advance her career. As a college intern, she worked in a back room but was still told by an older executive (who wore a lot of makeup) that she, Linda, should wear it if she ever expected to be taken seriously.
As a teenager, Linda’s own mother would even say things like, “You’re not going out like that, are you? You need blush and lipstick on your face.”
Over and over, Linda received the same message: “Your face is not acceptable as it was made. Do something to change it or cover it up.”
Rising Professional or Stroke Victim?
Reluctantly, Linda did end up getting the Botox procedure, but instead of having the desired effect her supervisor assured her it would have, the result was embarrassing and awkward for everyone involved.
Linda recalls the incident:
“Ironically, a week or so after the Botox, I was back in another ‘big’ meeting being led by a top woman executive. The funny thing about Botox is it’s not immediate, it gradually kicks in. Well, in that meeting–it kicked in–all of a sudden, I didn’t seem to have control of my face at all. Like I was trying to move my eyebrows, forehead, and it was the oddest sensation… I also happened to catch the attention of the woman speaking, and she was really giving me the looks–I suppose she was trying to figure out If I was having a stroke or something. Epically awkward.”
Not only did Botox not give her any of the promised “magic social perks” that were supposed to come as a result of having toxins injected into her face, Linda also suffered throbbing headaches in her right temple for about seven months after the procedure. Furthermore, Linda found out from a nurse that if the person administering the Botox hits an optical nerve during the injection, you go blind!
Honest Through and Through
Moreover, being the honest autistic woman she is, Linda gave no thought to telling her coworkers that she’d had Botox because her supervisor said she looked terrified in meetings. After all, nobody had told her to keep that fact a secret. Instead of the validation she was hoping to receive from others on how weird and toxic that entire situation was, however, her coworkers were more aghast that she’d actually done it!
Well, the supervisor certainly made it sound as though her job would be in jeopardy if she didn’t, so Linda did what she thought she had to do to keep a paycheck in the bank and a roof over her head.
The aftermath of this and other toxic workplace incidents have taken their toll on Linda, who was diagnosed autistic later in life. She explains that the extreme expectations on top of the stress of work/family/life balance “beat her down”, burned her out, and caused her to develop fibromyalgia.
Furthermore, despite the toxicity and complete wrongness of being told to get a potentially-dangerous medical procedure to fix the face she was born with, Linda, like many autistic people identified late in life, internalized feelings of being not good enough, as though by simply existing as herself, she was somehow letting people down.
I asked if Linda had anything to add, and she offered this final thought:
“I’m really proud of our younger generation breaking down these stereotypes and living more authentically. I did my best, but I also did it at my own expense.”
Autistic people often experience deep and lasting trauma in the workplace simply because we think and process the world differently from our neurotypical peers. In addition to being bullied, ostracized, reprimanded, and even suddenly fired for our differences, we are also told we need to mask our natural tendencies, which does damage to our mental health.
I think Linda’s story is important to tell because it shows the length that some neurotypical people will go to keep up appearances, and, in so doing, cause significant and lasting damage to the autistic people around them for nothing more than the “crime” of not conforming to an ideal that makes no logical sense in the first place.