Botox at 8: What Are We Doing to Our Girls?

Last Updated May 13, 2011 6:29 PM EDT

The news out of San Francisco was startling. The mother of an eight-year-old girl is regularly injecting her with Botox -- a toxin that paralyzes nerves to treat wrinkles -- in order to better compete in the warped world of baby beauty pageants.
The news report (that you can see here) spurred hundreds of calls to child welfare authorities, who are now reportedly investigating the mother, who said she received the Botox from somebody "behind the doctor scene."

However, it was just the latest in a series of reports that indicate there's no age too young to convince our daughters that looks are all that matters. Consider the furor earlier this year, when Abercrombie & Fitch -- the company that hires emaciated teenage models to not wear clothing in their advertisements -- started selling padded bikini tops for girls under the age of 8.

You can debate how demented this makes our brains, but it also cripples our finances. In 25 years of financial reporting, I can't count the number of women who have told me that they couldn't afford to save, but they could afford weekly manicures, expensive make-up, shoes, clothing and purses because that was an investment in their future.

That kind of thinking has resulted in a stark reality: 80% of the people living in poverty when they're old are women. That's not just because we continue to earn less, on average, than men. It's because women spend a fortune trying to be beautiful. To be sure, the Botox baby and the woman who broke the plastic surgery record to look like Barbie, are extremes. But millions of women will spend hundreds of dollars every week getting eyebrows waxed, hair tinted, nails wrapped -- and seek the perfect handbag for a party -- but say they don't have the wherewithal to invest $100 a month in a mutual fund.

It came as no small irony to receive my daily deal from Living Social -- $145 for a Botox injection, a whopping 73% off the regular price of $550. So in the same vein as my piece on how little things can cost a lot, I started wondering what this poor child would spend on Botox if she spent her lifetime worried about whether regular expressions would cause unsightly wrinkles (which, in another generation, we might call "laugh lines.")

Given that Botox wears off in three or four months, this eight-year-old would spend roughly $1,250 per year (assuming that she was only able to nab one really good discount on the three annual injections she'd need). Over the next 72 years of her life, that would cost her $90,000 in principal and just under $6 million dollars in lost investment returns. That assumes that you could earn 8% if you invested, rather than injected, that $1,250 each year.

Seem impossible? You can check the math using BankRate.com's simple savings calculator. I plugged in $550 for the initial injection and then divided the annual $1,250 cost by 12 to put in the "monthly deposit" of $105 (I did round up). Put in 8% as the annual interest (which, by the way, is a conservative estimate for long-term returns in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds) and 72 years, which assumes that this poor kid is going to keep up the beauty regime until she's 80. Altogether, Botox will cost her $6,054,213. And that doesn't account for the thousands of dollars she's probably going to eventually need for therapy.

Girls, if you want to be beautiful, I'll give you a tip. What makes you pretty is confidence. You get confidence from being kind, responsible and successful -- not from having the perfect handbag and nails. I assure you that properly arched eyebrows and fewer wrinkles will not help you look gorgeous when you're old and destitute. What's gorgeous is a woman with laugh lines, enjoying her grandkids in the penthouse apartment that she bought with all the money she didn't spend on Botox.

Kathy Kristof is the author of Investing 101.
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