I Want a Confident Smile
By Gretchen Voss
Round two with braces — and thankfully, no zits — this time gives Gretchen Voss something to grin about.
"Dude, you need to fix your teeth." That's what Booth, one of my closest college friends — a no-nonsense fashion critic whose job it is to note the aesthetically nasty, whose nature it is to name it aloud — slurred at me late one night last year. Hideous, right?
Actually, I was thrilled. Seriously. (And not just because I was punch-drunk.) I was sick of dithering — worried that I was frivolously buying into some aging prom-queen vanity — over whether or not to get braces. This was objective confirmation, in all its gimlet-eyed harshness, that I was justified in plunking down more than two grand (insurance would cover the other $2000) on myself, when there was a voracious family in a starving economy to cater to.
Truth was, my smile had melted into the moue of a crazed jack-o'-lantern. Maybe it was all that smoking in my younger years; maybe it was all that breeding in my recent years; maybe it was simply crap genes. But in the year since I had last seen Booth, my teeth — the ramrod-straight soldiers that four years of adolescent orthodontia buys — had rebelled. The top row of chompers splayed mutinously, while the front two parted ways, leaving an empty chasm — more snaggletooth Shih Tzu than chic Lauren Hutton — in which my tongue once got stuck. Still, until that night, I mucked around in indecision. Was I being silly and superficial? This was new terrain: Beauty, for me, had never been some angsty, hard-won battle. I wore my looks easily, comfortably, mainly because I liked them. But suddenly I didn't feel pretty. I cringed at photos — then stopped taking them altogether. Silly or not, I was sick of rendering myself invisible.
Although the latest survey from the American Association of Orthodontists reports more than 1.1 million adults treated annually (a 33.5 percent increase from a decade ago), I was definitely the only latte drinker in the packed waiting room of the orthodontist my 13-year-old, neon-pink-rubber-banded babysitter recommended. Undeterred, I marched into his office and plunked down pre-splay photos: blissfully manic smiles at my wedding and openmouthed guffaws with my friends. The doc was incredulous. That was me just last year, I insisted. That is me.