1) When I was 12 and at that age when one is as self-aware as one can be, I’d spent a lifetime looking in the mirror trying to figure out who I was but I’d never paid much attention to Maxie until my dear Grandma (with the best of intentions, I’m quite sure) said: “That tooth gives you character”. Tooth? Crooked tooth!
2) My oldest son at 6, completely apropos of nothing, leaned toward me, poked Maxie with his skinny finger and said, “That tooth makes me sick.” Huh?
These incidences aside, I’ve never been too bothered by Maxie. I guess I internalized Grandma’s message because I do think a natural smile provides a face with character. For this reason, I’ve never considered installing cosmetic orthodontic devices to my children’s teeth. My youngest has a pretty significant gap between his two front teeth but fixing it would be for looks only—it’s not serious enough to cause him problems so the gap and his Alfred E. Newman smile remain.
But lately, I’ve been thinking of my teeth as I notice other people’s teeth. I drink a lot of tea and my teeth are not as white as they once were. It seems that everybody in my world has sparkling white, perfectly formed and uniformly situated teeth and mine, in comparison, look rather dingy and crooked. When I think about this with perspective, I know that my teeth look exactly as a 45 year old woman’s teeth should look. Historically and globally, my teeth are in fantastic shape. I may have a lot of silver in my mouth but I’ve got all my originals and can eat and drink with no pain or trouble. I know I’m amazingly lucky to have been born during a time of fluoride, toothbrushes and dentistry (as opposed to barber-dentists…shudder). But I look at all the really stunning smiles on all the people around me and I think I should maybe do some cosmetic whitening or something to look “better”.
And then, I’ll be downtown or in some public place and I’ll notice the working class and economically challenged folks who have not had the same access to sometimes even rudimentary dental care, and for sure not orthodonture and I see that this is where the true social divide is most acutely evidenced.
Them that’s got, have 32 pearly ones. Them that’s not, usually don’t.
I was listening to a 2009 Terry Gross interview with Tom Ford, the director of “A Single Man” recently. He is a fashion designer who has studied the human body extensively. He was talking about our society being “post-human” because we no longer know what a real human body looks like. All the women held up to us as our ideals are made of artificial parts, something added, another thing taken away. We don’t know what natural is anymore. This is really obvious when it comes to breast enlargement and liposuction and such cosmetic “enhancement” but extends to botox and waxing and on and on.
Which brings me back to teeth. I think most of the people I know find breast enlargement to be unnecessary and possible offensive. Not many people in my world would have a tummy tuck or other cosmetic surgery to look younger. But how many people in my world have had cosmetic dentistry done? How many have whitened their teeth? Is this not one, seemingly benign, end of the same spectrum?
I guess the question for me is: How much of this is bearing false witness? How much of this is representing oneself to be something other than what one is? I’m not sure. There are certainly things about my physical self that I’m not crazy about but then I remind myself that I’m 45 years old and have birthed three babies (not to mention that I’ve had a pretty sedentary life for the past couple of years). If I were to bleach my teeth, am I putting forward a false self? If I wear a push-up bra? If I color my hair cherry, not to cover the grey but just for fun? In some ways this comes back to the Simplicity Testimony and also Integrity. Why would I be doing these things? What intention to I bring to each decision? Is it to deceive people? Is it to look better? What does better mean? Better to whom? Better according to what standards? With the exception of the teeth bleaching, most of what I do in regards to my appearance is to have playful fun. For me, clothing and hairstyles and jewelry and such are one of two things: Either utilitarian—meaning I must cover myself with something so I wear whatever is most practical for the situation or I’m playing dress-up. I play with clothing and play with the world through clothing and hair. It may be completely frivolous but I don’t do it to mislead or present a false impression. Even, or possibly even especially, wearing a push-up bra would be part of a costume worn for fun—a prop, if you will (ha!)--not to give an impression of me as younger and less gravitationally-challenged than I am but simply to fit in the “mood” of whatever I’m wearing.
In summary, no teeth bleaching for me and no cosmetic procedures. Fun with clothing, I guess is, in Quaker parlance, “carrying my sword as long as I can”. In other words, until I am given a message that I need to let it go, I will continue to dress in a decidedly un-Quaker-grey way. I’m fine with that and I don’t get the impression that God minds too much right now, either.