For as long as I can remember, I have not had a smile quite like anyone else’s.
I do not remember how I used to feel about my smile before my adult teeth grew in. But I have been reminded every day since then of how society would like me to feel about them now.
I do not have perfect teeth. I do not have straight teeth; or teeth that create what we have all been taught is an “award-winning” smile.
I am the person who fears public speaking and meeting new people because of the judgement I know is waiting for me; once I open my mouth to greet someone new. I am the woman who is afraid to go on dates with someone she has met online; because she doesn’t want them to be disappointed when they see the truth. I am the person our society has deemed imperfect. And I am desperately trying to accept and celebrate that, each and every day.
I have been teased and tormented for the majority of my life due to the appearance of my teeth.
I have had complete strangers walk up to me just to tell me that my teeth are ugly. And I have had children stop and stare at me because I do not fit into the world they are being taught how to be a part of. One time, I answered a phone call where a customer asked for the artist “with the messed up teeth”. And I had to calmly and courteously inform them that I was indeed the one they were looking for.
I have had one of my favourite holidays become a source of serious anxiety; because of the popularity of wearing fake, imperfect teeth as a costume. Why would I ever want to dress up for Halloween when someone already thinks that my teeth are a costume? I live what society has deemed a joke, each and every day of my life. I wish that I could shed my smile the same way they do when they are done dressing up as someone they have deemed as less than.
Many times, I have listened to my loved ones talk about the crooked teeth of others; and I always sit and wonder if they say the same things about me when I am not in the room. I have been made to feel like there is something wrong with me. All because of a small physical detail that has nothing to do with the person I actually am.
Sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I feel like my appearance is all just an elaborate joke from the universe.
On the surface, I appear to be attractive by society’s narrow-minded standards. But as soon as I open my mouth to speak, laugh, or smile? I feel like I am revealing the punchline to a joke. A joke I never wanted to be a part of.
I have a tendency to cover my teeth when I laugh around people I don’t know well, so that they cannot see the pain that I am holding inside. I will rarely show my teeth in a photograph. And if I do, I am usually unhappy with the result. I think about what it would be like if I ever got married and was photographed without ever showing a real smile. I daydream of what it must be like to genuinely smile and not be afraid of the outcome. You can always see in my eyes that I am uncomfortable if I am ever forced to smile and show my teeth in a photo. I just want to know what my eyes would look like genuinely happy and at peace.
Not everyone in my life ridicules me for my appearance, but I have to wonder if they would offer the same reassurance to someone they didn’t know as well. Do they only encourage me to smile because they love me or because they genuinely do not see anything wrong with my appearance? I wish I could believe that it was the latter, but I know deep down that it is not.
It is instilled in us at such a young age that we must look a certain way to fit in. It is drilled into our heads, our hearts, and our souls that as women, beauty should be our number one concern. What lies within us has never been as important as what we show to the rest of the world. And I feel like I have been fighting against that ideal my entire life.
I understand that I could just get braces or surgery and could have all of my problems fixed.
I would then be “normal.” I would finally be “beautiful.” I would finally stop being the odd one out. But what would doing this say to all of the young women and girls who don’t look like the celebrities they see on TV, and the influencers they see on social media?
It feels like I would be letting everyone else down who so desperately wants to see someone else who looks like them. It feels like I would be putting one more nail in the coffin of celebrating our own uniqueness. And it feels like I would finally be letting everyone who has ever hurt me win.
It feels like I would be failing myself.
This is why I have chosen to let my teeth remain imperfect. This is why I have chosen to start smiling my real, genuine smile in photos; even if it makes someone else uncomfortable. This is why I started letting myself wear lipstick; so the entire world has no choice but to look and come to terms with the imperfection that makes us all so uncomfortable.
Yes, there is lipstick on my teeth. And no, you don’t have to pretend like you are telling me a secret when you let me know. I know it is there and that it will continue to be there, and I am finally starting to make peace with that fact.
I am not ashamed of my appearance, so I am going to wear the damn lipstick. And I am going to celebrate and love my crooked teeth, just as loudly as the world celebrates their perfections.