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  • October 2010
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A Long and Frustrating Journey

Embarrassing confession time; I’ve never been fond of my teeth.  It’s something I kept to myself throughout my childhood and during most of my teenage years.  A comment my mom made when I was seven or eight might have been the start of it all, and it always stuck with me: “Do you want to get braces or are you going to have David Letterman teeth all of your life?” 

Up to that point I was just a happy little kid.  I’m fairly certain there was an anxious adolescent bubbling beneath the surface, but other than a fear of needles and slides at the park (ridiculous, I know) I was doing alright so far.  I guess I knew my teeth weren’t perfect, but I was desperately against braces and the stigma that went along with them.  So, why did my mother say that?  She was joking, but it hurt. (I didn’t let on.)  Anyway, braces were expensive and I had a strong feeling my parents couldn’t afford the orthodontist bills.  Where did this leave me?  Feeling anxious and conflicted about a body image issue I could do nothing about.

When I was sixteen I broke down and wrote my parents a note about it all.  I wrote about how I was self-conscious about my teeth, how I wanted to get braces before I got too old, and how I was too nervous about it to say anything to them.  They felt pretty awful – but told me they couldn’t swing it (my little sister was pretty sick at the time and my overbite anxiety just couldn’t take priority).  I felt guilty for even writing the note.

Commercials for Invisalign and other orthodontic treatments were physically painful.  They always featured before-and-after people who said they never smiled in photographs before their teeth were straightened.  (After orthodontic treatment they could finally live!)

Years went by; I went off to college and slowly got over the teeth thing. (Turns out nobody else really noticed anything was that wrong.)  I still didn’t like them and I still didn’t smile much in photographs (I’d never really learned how to) but I was growing up and my adolescent anxieties were replaced by adult anxieties. 

So why, all these years later, am I getting braces?  I’m twenty-six (and 1/2) and I have friends who have told me (unsolicited) that they like my teeth.  But, ultimately, it’s a personal decision. It’s not about trying to look a certain way; I just know I’ll feel better about myself after the braces are removed.

Sometimes there’s nothing quite so insulting or condescending as a book or a billboard telling you to love yourself for who you are.  (All of that preachy stuff feels so far removed from reality.)  But what if there’s something to it?  They say “nobody’s perfect” and it’s true. The tricky part is finding that happy medium – where you’re comfortable with who you are and you don’t care what anyone else thinks.

In that spirit (and to prepare myself for braces) I read Smile by Raina Telgemeier.  I heartily endorse this funny, touching, and honest graphic memoir.  But, if that’s not your cup o’ tea, I’ve compiled a list of some other books you might enjoy!  Check them out after the jump.


Smile by Raina Telgemeier – Eleven-year-old Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after a trip-and-fall mishap, she injures her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, corrective surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron – “I don’t like people in general and people my age in particular.” Eighteen-year-old James, living in New York City with his older sister and divorced mother, struggles to find a direction for his life.

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini – Badly in need of self-confidence and a change of image, high school nerd Jeremy Heere swallows a pill-sized super computer that is supposed to help him get whatever he wants.

Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught  Overweight, self-assured, high school senior Jamie Carcaterra writes in the school newspaper about her own attitude to being fat, her boyfriend’s bariatric surgery, and her struggles to be taken seriously in a very thin world.

Corey W.
CLP, Main – Teen Department

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