I used to only smile with my lips sealed shut. It started when I was little. I was a shy kid, (which is weird, because now I willingly talk to anything that breathes) so the goal was always to get through the school day saying as few words as possible. My little brain managed to convince itself that if I didn’t open my mouth, people would assume I didn’t want to talk, causing them to leave me alone. I didn’t show them my teeth, so they didn’t show me theirs.
Picture day was the worst. Photographers would always ask me to “say cheese” or to “smile big”. Some of them even told me jokes and, while I was laughing, they would snap a picture.
Oh, I think I may have forgotten to mention something: I used to have a huge space between my two front teeth. Growing up, I didn’t mind them at all. My Nana and I had the same teeth. She had a warm smile and I thought it was beautiful, tooth gap and all. Her and my mom always told me that my tooth gap made me look like Lauren Hutton. I didn’t know who she was, but my mom told me she was a model. My mom also told me that she showed her teeth in pictures. If Lauren did, why shouldn’t I?
When I was in fifth grade, someone told me I looked like a hippo. I thought it was funny. Hippos are cute. They then told me it was because of the humongous space between my teeth. Suddenly, I didn’t want to look like a hippo. I didn’t want to look like Lauren Hutton or my Nana. I wanted a gapless smile, one that would make me proud to show people my teeth.
Soon after, I got braces. I think I was probably the only kid to ever be excited about getting metal glued into my mouth. I thought it would make me happy. Two expanders, two teeth pullings, and one chain through the roof of my mouth (don’t even ask) later, and shockingly, I still wasn’t happy. Even after my frenectomy, which was supposed to permanently close my gap, I still wasn’t satisfied.
My gap didn’t stay closed for long. It came back, smaller than it was before, but definitely still a gap. For some reason, I didn’t hate it as much as I did before. In fact, I thought it made me look unique. Maybe slightly hippo-like, but a unique hippo nonetheless.
When I got my braces off, my orthodontist asked me if I wanted a retainer that would help close my gap. I said no. I think Lauren Hutton would be proud.
As I write this, I find myself smiling. Not a sealed-lip smile, but a smile that shows off my teeth in all their hippo-like glory.