I have always had horrible teeth. First of all, they’re really crooked. Even my dentist whispers about how I need braces for cosmetic reasons. Two, my teeth are bumpy because my mamelons (the bumps that adult teeth have) haven’t been worn down like most people’s. And, third, as if I needed ANOTHER reason, I’ve also got enamel hypoplasia, which means that my enamel is really thin and therefore my teeth are yellowed. I’m really self-conscious about all of this, and it’s so difficult to feel confident with my smile when my teeth are the exact opposite of what is considered beautiful and attractive. I model sometimes, and it’s getting harder and harder to resist pressures to get braces, get my teeth whitened, and have my mamelons filed down, even though I really don’t want to, and I can’t afford it. I’d love to be able to feel more confident with my teeth in a world where EVERYONE has their teeth drilled, filed, and bleached! Do you have any suggestions? —Olivia, 17, USA
Yo, so guess who shares every single one of these same tooth-related qualities (and they ARE qualities, as we will get to in a moment) with you, Olivia? THAT’S RIGHT: IT’S YOURS TRULY, MY SISTER IN MAMELON MOUTHITUDE. And that’s not all! In addition to what you describe, my front teeth have a few substantial chips and meet in, like, a pointed angle in the middle instead of an even, flat line, and the best way to describe the appearance of my bottom teeth is “drunk.” And guess what else is true of my rather ~unique~ dental situation? I don’t give even half a fuck if any of my teeth’s characteristics are considered bad by the kind of people I wouldn’t want around me in the first place, aka the kind of people who critique any part of the appearance of others (although I get that these people might be harder to avoid in your profession). Here’s my attitude toward my teeth: I take good care of them—do you know of any other human being who actually flosses? BE HONEST. And I also happen to really like the way they look, and that’s what matters.
It’s not like mouths like yours and mine are as uncommon as you seem to think, even in appearance-based industries like acting and modeling—just look at the gorgeous, unaltered chompers of Ashley Smith and Vanessa Paradis, for example, whose unconventional smiles are a large part of what makes them so alluring. And how many times have you heard people say they think irregular teeth are cute, or sexy, or whatever have you? From the way you describe yours, I’m guessing a lot, because they sound totally beautiful.
Having “perfect” teeth is, as you mention, also an issue of class and income. Growing up, my family couldn’t afford the steel mill’s worth of orthodontia that various dentists and mean classmates convinced me I couldn’t live without, so my teeth remained staunchly all over the goddamn place. I’m thankful for that now, because it forced me to get along with my snagglemouth and led me to think about the fact that you can drastically alter every other part of your face with certain kinds of makeup, but, save for long-term, dramatic procedures (and, to a lesser extent, whitening products), the teeth you have are more or less unalterable. They’re yours, and so harboring constant insecurities about them is kind of futile. Why not try to think about how cool it is that NO ONE ELSE on earth has your same set of dentures? Giving that up to fall in line with what someone else’s idea of what a mouth should look like seems kind of like a waste, my darling. Yes, your teeth are different from other people’s, but that’s a beautiful and rad and lucky thing, not a detriment to your appearance. And while of course it’s OK if you choose to change a part of your looks if you’ve given it a lot of thought and you KNOW it’ll make you happier, it doesn’t seem like you’re convinced that’ll be the case for you and your extraordinary teeth. Maybe, instead, the better option for you is to do what I did: Focus on how they make your face distinctly your own and take pride in the fact that your beauty is a singular one. Because it is.
This same idea is applicable to nearly everything you guys write to us about your bodily anxieties: It’s true of the noses that you hate for being defiantly three-dimensional instead of two flat holes poked into your face, and your gorgeous strong jawlines (all the better to keep your chins held high with, killers), and the knees you worry are somehow too flabby, as if that’s even a real thing, and, really, just THE ALL OF IT. Physical idiosyncrasies like these are the aesthetic parts of other people that make my heart pound most. When I think of the bodies of the girls I’ve swooned over in my past, I picture the amazing root system of blue veins all over my first girlfriend’s legs, or the stiff hairs that grew out of the foxy mole on my college crush’s neck, and the majestic vastness of the pores on a certain makeout partner’s nose, and I grin as I remember how stunning they were. The aberrant parts of their looks made these people feel so special and real to me, and I’d bet the farm that other people think the same of your own standout features.
Look, I’m not implying it’s petty to be concerned with how you look. Every human being, at some point or another, thinks about their outward appearance, even if they’re generally pretty into their reflections, and it can be awesome to mess around with your makeup and hair if you find that fun or it makes you feel more confident (as it does for me). But I also know from personal experience that thinking about your physicality can sometimes be way more consumptive and harmful than an occasional feeling of self-consciousness. Here’s a very true thing about being a woman: The world has been conspiring against your ability to feel good about your body since long before you were born, so when you make the decision to love yourself instead of joining in with the rest of society in torturing yourself about your looks, it’s going to be hard. You aren’t immediately going to accept your thick wrists or small butt or whatever the fuck. A lot of the media targeted at you, e.g., fashion magazines, will continue to stomp on your fledgling sense of self for a good long while to come. Even as you find yourself making progress, you will, occasionally, want nothing more than to fix your teeth. This is all normal and totally OK and also, as it’s crucial to realize, not your fault (see: centuries of beauty ideals designed to make us feel like garbage), so please don’t feel guilty if you aren’t a PERFECT BASTION OF SELF-CONFIDENCE right away (or ever). But, if you choose to fight this fight, you will begin to feel better. There will be days, then weeks, then even longer periods of time when you don’t even think about your too-high bellybutton or the fact that your eyebrows stick out or whatever inconsequential-to-everyone-else-but-awful-to-you thing is plaguing you. And, little by little, you’ll begin to feel beautiful. This usually happens right around the same time that you have the revelation that there is so much more that’s important and worthwhile about you than that, funnily enough.
Olivia, even if you’re 100% sold on orthodontia or whatever as the solution that will make you happy in this particular case (and if you are, and that’s what it takes for you to feel good when you look in the mirror, save up some cash and go for it, seriously, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS), it sounds like you know that you have another decision to make, too. Do you want to try to learn to love yourself? Or do you want to spend a lifetime picking on yourself and finding new things to hate no matter how much you try to “fix”? I can tell by your thoughtful letter that your mouth isn’t the main issue at hand here. To answer your question at its core, yes, you can feel more confident even when it seems like no one else wants you to. The fact that you’re thinking critically about this now means you’re already on your way.
I know I’m about to get all guidance counselor-y on your ass, but hear me out: Open a notebook. Write down everything that’s good about you, but don’t include anything about your physical traits. Sit and think about these things for however long it takes you to draw them into your heart and really know them. You have far more to contribute to this life and this world than a set of straight teeth. Keep that in mind when you’re baring your fangs at yourself in the mirror, and you’ll come to find you’re not doing it to remind yourself of your “flaws,” but rather to snarl at everyone who tells you to consider your mouth anything other than utterly lovely. Then smile so hard you can see each and every one of your molars, ya beauty. —Amy Rose
My school’s winter formal dance is coming up, and I NEED an outfit. But what the hell does “formal” mean? I want something cool that I can dance in—nothing too tight or too loose—and preferably something unique! Any options out there? —Molly, Washington
A formal is pretty much the same as a prom in terms of fanciness, but you don’t have to go full Cinderella ball gown—unless you want to, of course! I think the best kind of silhouette to shake dat booty in is a dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt, like this gold number from Pin Up Girl Clothing. Here’s a similar one in blue, and this red one is also great! However, if you want to diminish the chance that someone else will be wearing the same dress, vintage is the way to go. My dream vintage pick for you would be a powder-blue ’50s-style dress with a tulle skirt, accessorized with silver so you look like a total ice princess.
Imagine a vintage baby blue dress like the one above (or this one) with those sparkly silver shoes from Shiekh, some glittery Deborah Lippmann nail polish, and this Giant Dwarf constellation crown from Catbird. I also think sequins of any kind are a good choice—I particularly love this black dress from Etsy. Hope you have a blast! —Marie