When I was in school, my mother sometimes said that I could benefit from closing the gap between my two front teeth. As I grew older and entered college, her soft pleas gravitated to frequent nudges.
I didn’t think there was anything actually wrong with my teeth. In fact, I was known for my hearty laughter and generally sported a 100 watt toothy smile. But yes, all through my school life, I smiled with pursed lips whenever in front of a camera. Class photographs, family pictures, sports day shots, house captainship photos et al. The collections and albums were proof that probably, I subconsciously believed that my smile with a slightly overlapping front tooth and a gap looked off in a photograph. By the way, I have no idea how and when this thought got planted in my head.
It was the summer of 2002. I was home during my college’s summer break. Plenty of time at hand, I reluctantly agreed to accompany my mother to the orthodontist. I was actually more interested to pillion ride on her darling scooter, and grab a bite at our favourite cheese-toast point.
We reached the dental centre before time. And there he was – sitting in his chair like a fat cat – looking at me keenly, waiting for me to smile and ‘reveal’ my poor mal-positioned teeth. I had heard that he was soon going to change my life, you see.
He asked me to head for my x-ray first, which I did, and then to give my tooth impression. I got it all done comfortably because I’d had umpteen dental encounters before. Cavities and I were buddies of sorts. Free from this first chore, I went back to his desk. My mother sat in front of him, and both beamed meaningful smiles. Obviously I had been the topic of conversation, and my mother would’ve narrated how difficult I had been in the past, and how much convincing it took to finally see this day.
All was okay. Until, the orthodontist spoke. Looking at me with an intense expression, giving his full attention, he shared his opinion:
“Your smile is okay. But we can make you look even better….You will not be able to recognise yourself once the process is over.” (I think I imagined a halo on his head. Never mind.)
While giving me that opinion, he pointed at the poster on the wall behind him to visually demonstrate his thoughts. It was a full blown close up portrait of a young lady, with pearl like picture perfect set of teeth, giving a wide Cheshire smile. And of course, she was fair and had blonde hair.
That was it.
I felt my blood boil in every tiny cell of my body. A tsunami of thoughts hit me. After moments of silence and thinking, I stood up, politely said, “Thank you very much,” and walked out.
Hi opinion helped me see exactly why all these years I had reluctantly resisted against getting my front tooth gap fixed. It was because I never thought I wasn’t pretty or that I needed to look prettier or ‘better.’ I had no aspiration to fit into the definition of what he or anyone else thought was pretty. Yes, the poster girl was pretty. But that’s not the only kind of pretty. Most importantly, ‘I’ was not that poster girl. I am who I am. There is only one of me on this planet. And that itself is a strong reason to celebrate my appearance. With and without flaws. Straight and crooked.
That’s when it dawned on me how foolish I had been to have pursed my smile in my pictures. There was no need to do that. Hearing the orthodontist’s opinion on how he could ‘make me look better,’ made me acknowledge for the first time, that I wasn’t unhappy with my smile, and hence didn’t need to edit my teeth.
After a couple of minutes, my mother came behind me. I was standing by her scooter, cooling down under the shade of a large Neem tree. Somehow, my mother understood me. She didn’t ask any questions, and we headed straight to the cheese-toast point. That marked the end of tooth gap conversations.
That also marked the end of my pictures with pursed smiles.
Ladies, let’s flash wide smiles. Let’s express ourselves freely. Perfect smiles or imperfect smiles, aligned or not aligned, gaps or no gaps – no one cares unless you do.
This article was published at Women’s Web.