Self Portraits: Learning How to Smile. Aka The Story of My Teeth

September is the start of a new season. It’s also the start of a new chapter in Kara River, as my struggles with the internetless summer come to an end tomorrow. My wifi has been taking a long summer break, but tomorrow an engineer finally comes in and hopefully finds a way to put it back on it’s feet. For a modern person, living without an internet has been a nerve-wracking experience, but it has also given me a chance to enjoy summer (which in Manchester has meant rain, heavy rain, drizzle, thunder and some more rain) and come up with new material and topics for Kara River blog.

September is significant for a third reason as well: Kara River blog has it’s first birthday! I know the first year was a bit slow as in contrary many things changed in a fast pace in my own life, but that’s why I want to hit the ground running for the second year of Kara River. I have a long list of ideas and a hard drive full of pictures, so let’s get started! 

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I want to kick-start this September with a very personal topic. I needed a new headshot of myself today, which is always slightly awkward, but the session turned into a bit more relaxed portrait shooting. Now this is big for me, because during the past year I’ve had to learn a new skill: I’ve had to learn how to smile. For you to understand what I mean, I need to tell you a story about my teeth…

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I remember being 13-years-old when someone said a mean thing about my teeth for the first time. It was then that I started paying attention to my teeth and noticed that they weren’t like everyone else’s. I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed it sooner, but after that I was constantly aware of how terribly ugly my mouth was. My front teeth grew on top of each other, pointing outwards and a one corner tooth was like a vampire fang. It might have not been a horrible situation in reality, but in my mind the flaw started growing bigger and bigger.

I was bullied a lot for a few years after that. The bullying had nothing to do with my teeth most likely, but it was a popular topic in all the name calling. I started thinking that maybe if I fix my teeth everyone will not hate me. So I booked an appointment with a dentist and heard the thing that I was going to hear many times during the next years: the teeth can’t be straightened, because the flaw is “only” aesthetic. If I want braces, I need to pay a few thousand euros for them. At that age, it just wasn’t a possibility. I left the dentist crying so hard I almost cycled under a car. 

In my desperate need to not to be hated for superficial things or give my bullies more reasons to laugh at me, I then started hoping that whitening my teeth would help. No one would notice that the teeth are crooked, if they are white? They just blend into each other, right? Ah, no. I brushed my teeth several times a day with the stupidest products and ended up destroying my teeth even more. When I had basically brushed of all the enamel of my teeth, the pain in them started to be unbearable. This of course took years. While brushing my teeth, I remember almost hoping that my teeth would snap off and I would get new ones. Ones that didn’t draw any attention to themselves. After all the years of bullying I generally smiled very little, or at least tried not to. I would hide my mouth with my hand or just keep my lips closed, if something broke my wall and made me joyful for a moment.

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Years went by and I moved on from the schools where I was bullied and went to university. New city, new friends, new life.. same teeth. At this point I was obsessed with them. I couldn’t think anything but them. I had a low self-esteem in general and I channelled it all to my teeth. Every time, and I literally mean every time, I would meet someone new I would get anxious about them looking at me. “Why are they looking at my face? Are they looking at my teeth? Now they definitely noticed them, they looked at them. Oh no, don’t smile, don’t talk, they’ll see.” I worked as a sales person and I was certain each and every single rude customer hated me because of my teeth. And those who weren’t rude because of it were simply being polite, but disgusted anyway. When I would get a new haircut or outfit and feel slightly better about myself, the voice in my head would remind me that none of that matters because “when people see your teeth, they’ll hate you”. Dating was hell, I won’t even go into that. 

My teeth were horrible towards the end, mostly because of my insane brushing.  They were in my thoughts every single hour of the day and they were painful. I had learned weird little tricks to eat and drink without anything ever touching my front teeth. 

My life changed last year, in the summer of 2015, when I was contacted by StudioDent dental services. I was promised new teeth, new smile. I don’t think they knew how much that meant to me.

After several sessions I walked out of StudioDent’s door with a brand new smile. Ok, it really wasn’t like in makeover tv-shows at all. In those shows the person getting the makeover just gets up from the chair and is given a mirror, where they can see their new teeth from and then they cry for joy. I was hoping it would be like that, but it wasn’t. It was a lot more painful and blood-filled, but luckily the dentist was a pure professional. He was able to handle my fear of dentists as well, so I felt safe. I’m so damn grateful for him.

When you’ve spent your life hiding your smile, it’s hard to learn how to do it. It may sound strange, but even now, after a year, I still don’t know how to smile. I’ve tried to practice though. I’ve made faces to a mirror. I’ve tried to smile in photographs with my teeth showing. There isn’t any photographs of me smiling with my mouth open before last year, so I find it hard to recognise myself at all from any recent photos. My self-esteem is so much better now though, and that is all thanks to StudioDent. 

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So this post turned out to be incredibly personal. I just want to point out two things: 1. Dental hygiene is VERY important, but overdoing it is also bad. Bad, bad, bad. 2. Don’t judge people based on their teeth. Bad teeth are not an immediate sign of bad hygiene or bad eating habits. It can be about genes and unfortunate circumstances.

I wish I had something encouraging to say to people who have same kind of insecurities about their appearances. I was lucky to have a fairy godmother somewhere to hear my wish. But just know this: no one else sees or looks at your flaws as closely as you do. I know many people who have now later on said that they never noticed my teeth or they just never thought anything about it. I met my wonderful boyfriend when I still had my old teeth, but he loved me anyway and actually kept telling me that I had the loveliest smile. But I still drove myself crazy by thinking about them constantly. I now realise they didn’t actually have any impact on how people saw me. Of course my own behaviour around people would have most likely been completely different, if I had grown up with good teeth. Ever seen the Ugly Betty episode, where she dreams of having grown up with good teeth? How her life was completely different? It’s a silly episode, but I’d have to say that it’s also terribly accurate.

Don’t let your tiny flaws take control. Happy start of the autumn everybody! Oh, and keep smiling! 🙂

In the photos I’m wearing the same second-hand top I did in my first blog post a year ago.

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– Kara

// Edit. This post was written on the 1st of September but due the internet problems only published on the 2nd. Hopefully posting will become easier from now on!

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