I was never teased for it, and thus never felt bad for having it. But because I was one of the few people around me who did, I did feel moments of insecurity because of it. Once in a while, one of my relatives would bring up the fact that they thought it was so beautiful, and I neither agreed nor disagreed with them. For me, it was just always one of those things. It was never a flaw, and neither was it ever a beauty mark or a symbol of pride. I thought about it mostly when I saw other friends who had it, try to hide it; friends who covered it with their hands, and who, for whatever reason, never comfortably smiled because of it. I thought about it a lot more when I met people like cousin Bobo, whom for him it was everything. It was something to be proud of, to talk about, and to show off. Thus, I’ve encountered those who saw it as a flaw, as something to fix, as well as those who related to it as a beautiful birthmark symbolizing who they were and where they came from.
For me, the gapped tooth was just a mystery.It was just there. I never had feelings for it, never knew how to relate to it, and when people would ask me about it, I was never sure exactly how to talk about it.I was neither ashamed of it, nor proud of it.
It was just what it was.
Looking back to when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, I remember thinking I needed to wear braces. I’m not sure if that was because most of the people around me at that age had them, or because I had internalized mainstream standards of beauty of which in American society, straight, gapless teeth, are MOST INCLUDED.
I remember thinking, unconvincingly so, that maybe my gap was a little bit too big, and that I could wear something to make it smaller. Or that I could wear braces or bands just up until the point I was perfectly comfortable with my mouth. Those thoughts of course never led me into the orthodontist’s office. They led me to the couch, talking to my mom about my uncle, who apparently has a gap just like mine.
At 27, I can’t help but look in the mirror and recognize so much of who I am in the space in between my two front teeth. I can’t help but celebrate the fact that my beauty is my beauty; to others it’s different, but to me, it’s all I have ever known. Today, I am thankful more than ever that I did not force my mom’s hand to take me into the orthodontist’s office and to erase what has become a symbol of my personhood. The thought of waking up to not find my gap there, staring back at me, unnerves me. From what I can remember, it has been with me my whole life, and and is as part of who I am as my optimistic energy, obsessive workaholicness, my overly ambitious spirit, and stubbornness.
Today, I can’t help but recognize the individuals who have led me from indifference over my gapped tooth to great appreciation and pride. I can’t help but be thankful for the experiences that have transformed the ways in which I think about and relate to beauty. Even in an age of rapid globalization, the occident doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, define and set the standards of beauty for the rest of the world. Thankfully, there are still many communities which continue to celebrate and encourage their own beauty standards.
The celebration of my gap is partly due to my traveling to the brewing heart of the world, my motherland, where the energy is contagious, the people are proud, and the gap is envied. Go to Nigeria or Ghana (just ask my Ghanaian aunties and uncles), you will have strangers complementing what they feel is a perfect space in between your two front teeth. There are individuals in those spaces who in fact choose to go for cosmetic surgery and have a gap created in between their teeth. A couple of times when I was in Nigeria and my life partner was introducing me to his friends and family, one of the first things they would say was along the lines of “wow you have gone and found yourself a beautiful girl with a gap” or “she’s beautiful and has a gap.” I found it extremely amusing each time because for each one of those individuals, the mention of my gap was to them a recognition of what they saw as beauty. It’s no wonder my partner is obsessed with both his and my gap, and collates that that to our obsessive laughers. For him, everyone with a gap should laugh too much because they must always show it.
Demystifying the gap is not about me looking at my gap as a flaw that I accept, because let’s be honest, it isn’t a flaw. Demystifying the gapped tooth to me means being able and comfortable to have a conversation about it, precisely because not many others have it, and as a result, there are those who curious are about it (many it’s). It’s being able to talk to those who try to hide it and encourage them through my own experience to be more comfortable with it. In a world where things that were different didn’t have to be fixed, this conversation would not be necessary. But because we live in world where because individuals are shamed for not being like everyone else, it’s important to talk about even something that should never be regarded as a misfit.
Share, and Unravel Away Artist.