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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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So, anyway, here are my teeth, slightly out of focus (which some might think a mercy).


In their delicate yellowness (coffee not nicotine) and lack of uniformity they conform quite well to the American stereotype of English teeth. I haven't made a proper study of the matter, but I'd guess that in general the stereotype is correct, and that English people's teeth are a bit skewiff - certainly those of my generation and up. I can't say this bothers me greatly - or at all, in fact.

What puzzles me though is this. If Americans' teeth are generally straighter, it isn't because they grow that way naturally. No, it's because Americans go to orthodontists for cosmetic treatment. That's fine, of course, but what I find strange is the extent to which this particular form of cosmetic treatment has assumed the force of a cultural obligation in the USA. By contrast, while lots of people get nose jobs and face lifts and Botox, I haven't noticed a general open jeering at people (let alone nations) who don't (which isn't of course to say that some narrower social groups don't come under pressure to get those treatments too). When it comes to teeth, though, it seems there's a widespread sense that not to get one's teeth "fixed" is eccentric, risible, almost perverse.

Well, that's the way it looks to me from this side of the Atlantic, anyway, but I suspect I'm getting a very partial picture, given that so much of what I see is through the prism of the entertainment industry and is heavily skewed (far more than my teeth) in terms of race and class. Still, in so far as there's any truth to this picture, I wonder why the attitude to this particular form of cosmetic treatment differs from attitudes to the rest?

I can't even imagine criticizing someone for wearing glasses! Or indeed for making any choice about something so obviously their-own-business-and-not-mine as their appearance - but I know it happens, and parents appear to have a special dispensation in this regard. It seems strange that it only kicked in once you were an adult, though!

Well, often it comes in the form of a backhanded compliment - like, I take off my glasses momentarily for some reason, and someone says, "Oh, you look so nice without your glasses," although it does sometimes then lead to the person in question adding on, "Why don't you wear contacts?" I often feel that a completely unjustifiable disgust for anything remotely involving eye trauma is hard to defend, though, so it is awkward.

I think in general my mother's anxieties about my ability to conform to expectations of feminine appearance got greater and greater the older I got. It isn't necessarily an area of great interest to her either, but I think she wasn't expecting that without any kind of training I would turn out to be even less interested than she was, so she began to feel guilty when, having failed to really discuss anything related with me when I was a child, I wound up as a teenager who more or less didn't care about my appearance at all. There was this awful period when I was in high school and wearing jeans and some kind of boring long-sleeved shirt to school every single day when, whenever I got home, my mother would ask me anxiously what my classmates had worn to school, and, every single day, I would inevitably have to confess that I had utterly forgotten to check, since it was a matter of so little interest to me that it was nearly impossible to remember that I should expect to be asked about it.

I nevertheless feel kind of irritated that the braces thing only kicked in after I was the one who would have to pay for it, though; even if it was making up for what my parents felt were their earlier failures, it still doesn't quite seem right.