It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t feel self conscious about my smile. I wasn’t born with a perfect set of Hollywood pearly whites, ruler straight and sparkling. My front two teeth overlap and my dentist never saw it fit for me to wear a brace. Despite not really drinking fizzy pop when we were children, my teeth aren’t a dazzling shade of white. My smile was crooked, faded and something I would call quirky if I was trying to be diplomatic about it.
My solution? To smile with my mouth closed.
Whenever people would say ‘say cheese’, I was silent. My lips remained superglued together no matter how hard a photographer tried to make us laugh. If I didn’t like my smile in the photo because my teeth had dared to escape from their confines, I deleted it.
I got used to having resting bitch face syndrome in photos. It actually became something that I’d laugh about with my friends – ‘are you sure you’re having a good time Jess?’ Often I felt like I was smiling, but clamping my lips down over my teeth made me look more like I was about the threaten to murder your dog than tell you what a great time I was having. I felt an affinity with Victoria Beckham, her mouth firmly closed and no noticeable trace of any smile.
It became exhausting, posing for photos before nights out then ending up participating in a mini photo shoot for half an hour because I didn’t like my smile then my friend didn’t like how her arm looked and then another friend didn’t like the angle of the picture. Eventually we’d get ‘the shot’ – with me being closed mouthed and looking like I was posing for a mug shot – but the whole charade of posing, deleting and scolding ourselves for not looking ‘right’ was exhausting.
I know I credit Australia for a lot of the positive changes I’ve made in my life, but since coming here and since getting older, I feel like I’ve just learned to let a lot of these insecurities go.
It got to the point where I realised to try hide my smile in a photo was just silly because in reality I spend most of my days bearing my teeth in a cheesy grin. People will inevitably see my teeth. I laugh goofily, meaning that my mouth will be open and my teeth will be on show. I’ll be the girl who gets you to check her teeth for food at the end of a meal. In every day life I’d say my most used expression is a smile, a proper teeth barring one. The photo version of myself became such a reserved, withdrawn caricature of myself that sometimes I looked at the faintly miserable girl and didn’t even recognise that it was me.
I can’t really describe how I stopped caring so much how my smile looked in photos. I think I just saw a candid photo when we were travelling and thought ‘oh, look how happy I look’. There was no forced lip muzzle, no artificial retaking of the moment – just a goofy, cheesy, wonky smile. It changed my whole face and made it light up more than any other photo did. I looked prettier, happier, more like the person I recognised.
The truth is that we all can’t have perfect teeth and in all honesty a lot of people we see online don’t naturally have perfect teeth anyway. They are either the lucky beneficiaries of braces or have veneers or spend thousands on whitening kits. If you Google celebrities like Tom Cruise or Cheryl you will see just how much of their smile is down to a Hollywood dentist. That’s not to say that their smiles weren’t beautiful before, but the ‘perfect’ smile we get presented with isn’t a natural one. It’s no better than anyone else’s.
A smile is a smile, whether it’s crooked, straight, wonky, discoloured, dazzling, goofy, gap toothed or overlapping. Think how much better you feel when someone says something with a smile or when a stranger walking past acknowledges your presence with a smile. That’s how powerful a smile is.
A smile is a powerful thing, not something that insecurity should conceal.
My go-to pose is still often to have my mouth closed – I can’t break that habit yet – but I’ve grown past the stage of seeing a natural toothy smile photo and screaming ‘NO – DELETE IT!’ Sometimes I’ll retake a photo just so I can smile with my teeth out. I like my tushpeglils, as I affectionately call them. I quite like my goofy, stick your teeth out smile. Hollywood can keep it’s perfect row of made in the factory teeth – my quirky little smile is something to smile about.