Last night I snuggled up to indulge in the season premiere of my #1 guilty pleasure, "House." The episode featured a plot line in which a woman, crushed in a collapsed building, was struggling against other, mysterious, life-threatening illnesses. At her bedside were her boyfriend and mother. The boyfriend was standard-issue dweeb, but the mother appeared to have some bizarre facial anomalies. Her visage looked calcified, her forehead hardened into an Eric-Stoltzian-in-"Mask"-like precipice. Clearly this was some horrific genetic issue that was now manifesting in her lovely younger daughter. I kept waiting for Hugh Laurie to look at the mother and immediately go, "Aha! Lionitus Fasciatis!" or "Myofacial Cementiasis!" or some such thing. But no, everyone kept relating to this character as though nothing were wrong with her and I grew more and more confused.

House of course, eventually solves the medical mystery by figuring out the mangled woman in the hospital bed is in fact, not the woman's daughter at all, but somebody else from the collapsed building and her actual daughter is down in the morgue. Cut to the mother receiving this tragic news. Naturally, she is devastated, but her own mysterious disease prevented her from registering any emotion. Her face was a veritable Mt. Rushmore of granite stillness. That was the moment I made my own "no-duh" diagnosis: this woman was suffering from that silent killer that is cutting down expressive, gifted, aging actresses across Hollywood: Botox. This actress' strain was so aggressive, so disfiguring that it had completely handicapped her in her work. Unable to furrow her brow as one surely must when learning that your only child has been squashed under a big building, she was directed to cover her face with her hand and turn away from the camera.

Botox is a blight on our culture. It is destroying faces, personal histories and prime time television. We must stop this silent, disfiguring killer before it robs another actress of her most valuable tool, and us another second of our voyeuristic pleasure. All across TV Land, from "House" to "Desperate Housewives," actresses are doing what is known in the theater world as "mask work" -- where they must express through their bodies what can no longer be read in the face. But we go to TV, film and theater to watch faces contort and crumple with emotion, to see ourselves, flaws and all, reflected. If it was only perfect stillness and beauty we were after, then all we'd need is magazines.

You can help stop this epidemic by speaking out: tell a woman over forty that she's beautiful as she is. Please act now. The face you save may be your own.

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