MY JOURNEY TO SELF-LOVE INCLUDES EMBRACING MY TEETH
My teeth have been a point of contention since I was young. As a child of a divorced family, decisions about which parent was going to take me to Disneyland, or who was going to pay for braces, always fell on the other parent. “Your dad should pay for them,” my mom would say to me after we left the dentist’s office. My dad’s response was similar and predictable, “Ask your mom. I’m already paying child support.” In an effort to diminish their childish parenting styles, especially when it came to my teeth, they would both remind me that I didn’t need them: Your teeth will correct themselves as you grow older. Dentists are just trying to make money. Your teeth are fine as is.
Turns out, 25 years later, my teeth haven’t corrected themselves. I still have crooked teeth. Imperfect. Overcrowded. Uneven. Cracked. Crooked. Irregular. Misaligned. Neglected. Stained. All of these dental terms are vocabulary I know all too well from dentists describing my teeth over the years. I was once told by a dentist with a white beard that “a pretty girl like you should have photogenic teeth.”
Got a bag and fixed my teeth. Hope you hoes know it ain’t cheap.
Messaging around the need for perfect teeth isn’t just heard in the dentist’s office. Rapper Cardi B made headlines when she “got her teeth fixed” a few years ago. Her before and after images were scattered all over the internet, and something as mundane as teeth where the talk of the celeb world. Even reality TV desires perfect pearly whites. Earlier this year, Bravo housewife Lisa Vanderpump got tooth-shamed about her gums and teeth before she had veneers put in, and over the last few years, several housewives including Kyle Richards and Ramona Singer replaced their real (and perfectly fine) teeth with a set of veneers. One of the articles about Kyle Richards’ new teeth said, “Kyle looks happy – as evidenced by her beaming smile.”
Turns out, in order to smile and be happy, I too would need perfect teeth. I’d need teeth other than my own.
I wish I could say that as a 31-year-old adult woman, societal messaging around having perfect teeth hasn’t impacted me along the way, but concerns about my crooked teeth have only increased over the years. The older I get, the more I care. Having crooked teeth feels like a lack of personal hygiene. Not fixing my teeth feels like neglect.
Though the state of my teeth has never stopped me from smiling, I notice, every time, when someone lowers their gaze to my mouth when I’m talking. Everytime I meet someone new, I’m aware of how I speak and how much I open my mouth. I’ve even made comments about my teeth to people I don’t know well, as a way to declare that I’m not in denial. I haven’t *actually* neglected myself, or my teeth. These statements protect their image of me: I’m not an unclean or bad person. I’m just a person with a set of unfortunate teeth.
Just like I haven’t microbladed my patchy and over plucked eyebrows, I haven’t made the leap to correct the state of my teeth – a protest to societal norms.
A few years ago, after my mom and one of my best friends got Invisalign, I decided to inquire about finally getting my teeth fixed. Their new straight teeth changed their face, and their confidence increased every time they smiled. Part of the Invisalign process is taking a 3D photographic view of your mouth. When I finally saw my own video, I was mortified. I contemplated never speaking or opening my mouth again.
When I came home to my husband, I collapsed in his arms and cried. “I didn’t know they were that bad,” I said as I tried to catch my breath. He tried to convince me that they’re not. “Your teeth are one of my favorite things about you,” he said, trying to comfort me. “It’s all in your head, babe. Your teeth are so cute.” I laughed and shook my head as he wiped the tears off my face. “Cute” is the same word my best friend used to say in high school whenever I’d complain about my teeth. When I Googled “cute teeth,” as a way to understand their description, I always land on a bunch of cartoon teeth with smiley faces on them, usually holding up a toothbrush. Not it, I thought.
It’s been four years since my Invisalign appointment, and I still haven’t gotten as far as putting a deposit down. I’m not sure why, because it’s still something that bothers me often. But part of me also doesn’t want to adhere and conform to the societal pressures of having perfect teeth. And in the era of physical perfectionism, it could be argued that the severe spike in the pursuit of perfect skin, perfect eyebrows, and perfect teeth, is rooted in the belief and the need for a perfect face. Just like I haven’t microbladed my patchy and over plucked eyebrows, I haven’t made the leap to correct the state of my teeth – a protest to societal norms.
I recently read an article written by Taylor Sterling called “An Ode To Gap-Toothed Women,” and while I felt like I’d rather have a gap than crooked teeth, I was amazed by her ability to embrace her “imperfect” teeth. “Unconventional beauty isn’t what our culture promotes,” she shares. She urges women with gaps to view their teeth as beautiful, instead of flaws or something to fix. And I couldn’t help but feel the same way about crooked teeth. What if my crooked teeth are indeed cute? What if they are, dare I even say it, beautiful?
While Hollywood is filled with veneers and overly whitened teeth, there are some who aren’t adhering to the pressures of perfection. I recently watched an interview with Drew Barrymore, and I couldn’t help but notice her teeth. They looked similar to mine.
As for many people, body positivity and self-acceptance is a journey, and for me, it includes learning to embrace my teeth. I can’t say I will 100% not change my teeth in the future, but in the meantime, I’m not allowing having crooked teeth to define my beauty or indulge feeling shitty about myself. While I still cringe when I see my teeth in Instagram stories, I know that my beauty and worth aren’t defined by the shape or positioning of my teeth. Crooked teeth, happy, and smiling. Picture perfect.