Smiling to False Standards

I recently came across a post on a Facebook page asking women what they didn’t like about themselves when they were kids, or what their daughters dislike about themselves now. I hated my teeth and smile. I still struggle with accepting them, as I think many women in my family have struggled with accepting theirs. The cosmetic work I had done to “correct” my smile was work I couldn’t afford, it wasn’t done well and it didn’t get rid of my alleged need for braces.

I went through with sawing off my tooth enamel and replacing it with plastic veneers because at the time I was working with kindergartners, and in their honest way, they kept asking why my teeth were crooked. Grownups are not supposed to have crooked teeth. Once when the teacher asked the kids what they would most like to give their parents for Christmas, one child said, “Braces for my mom “because she hates her smile, and she’s always covering it up.” Broke my heart, and so did their questions. It was like being a kid all over again and having kids—most of whom were white and whose parents made more money than mine—ask, “Why don’t you get your teeth fixed?”

Me at age 5 or 6

Me at age 5 or 6

I’ve since realized the better question is, “Why are white people always trying to fix my look to their standards?” As long as I could chew, my teeth were fine. My smile may not have been “pretty” (as the cosmetic orthodontist who eventually “fixed” them quipped, “God didn’t give you a pretty smile.” I think the Holy Spirit was telling me to tell him, “God said to stick that drill somewhere else,” and leave, but I wasn’t paying attention.), but there was nothing wrong with me.

I internalized it and had the “work” done, but I still regret it. I regret the cost, the fact that my smile still isn’t perfect after such a wild and unnecessary expense and that I ever let false standards of beauty draw my self-esteem so low. Truth is the teeth were one portion of a larger “not pretty” package that I thought I could fix. I had struggled with my weight since I was 10. My boobs stopped growing when I was around 15 (and when I lose weight, that’s where the fat comes off first). As a black girl and woman, I also wasn’t acceptable to black people because my butt wasn’t big enough. I couldn’t get breast or butt implants, but teeth? Those I could fix. I could do something to make myself attractive when mantras like, “I am fearfully and wondrously made” didn’t work, because sometimes they don’t.

The person asking the question on FB illustrates children’s books and designs Miss Zee, a line of products with Black female characters. I hope she makes one with crooked teeth. Oh, and a gap, which I had when my primary teeth came in but lost at age eight when I got braces for six weeks on just a few teeth. That time I had dental surgery to fix what truly was a medical emergency resulting from a terrible accident. But I miss my gap, too.

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