I missed the memo on getting braces.

Growing up, my teeth were a little crooked.  Not tragically crooked, but crooked enough to make me self-conscious.  I was keenly aware that from the left, my teeth looked OK, but from the right, yikes.  So when I was around boys I liked, I made an effort to make sure they were looking at my “good side.”  It was a little exhausting.

I’m a Navy brat and there was no military insurance which covered orthodontia for dependents.  Paying out-of-pocket was just beyond my family’s financial reach, so my teeth stayed sadly-but-not-tragically crooked until I was all grown up. 

When I was 26, I went in for an orthodontic evaluation and it turned out I needed a lot of work.  Extractions, braces on top and bottom teeth, rubber bands, the whole shebang.  All of it hurt like hell and cost me a fair amount of money, but I relished every minute of the experience because I was ecstatic about finally having straight teeth. 

Having braces as an adult is a little trippy.  Clerks in liquor stores are especially confused–they see the braces and think “teenager” then they see the crow’s feet and they sense a rift in the space/time continuum.  Adults with braces are this funny little developmental anachronism and they can be quite the conversation piece.  I had braces during my first year of law school and became instantly famous as “that girl with braces.”  Hey, all publicity is good publicity, I suppose. 

A couple of years after my braces came off, Elliot Yamin was one of the finalists on American Idol.  He was my personal favorite that year, not only because of his fantastic voice, but because he had crooked teeth.   After appearing on American Idol, Elliot Yamin had a complete smile makeover:

I completely identified with the bit of shame he must have felt about his teeth.  As a young adult, walking around with crooked or unhealthy teeth tells the world that you were probably kind of underprivileged growing up.    I had a lot of advantages growing up, but good dental insurance and disposable income were not among them.  Having your socio-economic status stamped on your face sucks.  

Going off to college with straight teeth would have been great.  I would have been delighted if my smile had been perfect on my wedding day.  But, the experience of having braces as an adult was actually really empowering.  It taught me that if something bugs you, you can change it, and it is never too late.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball