self-conscious about teeth when smiling
April 21, 2013 5:26 PM   Subscribe

I am an asian woman in my late 20's. I can't remember when, but at one point in my life my mom told me to never show my teeth when I smile for pictures because they looked ugly (I had braces then). It's been years since and braces have long been off (though they left some marks on my front teeth), and I still never smile with teeth in pictures. My teeth are not great, but they are not the worst I've seen-- they are sort of middle of the road in terms of straight-ness, and are naturally kind of yellow/grey, but not insanely so. I feel like I look really weird in all of the pictures because I am smiling without teeth. I have an infectious, outgoing personality. I would like that to reflect in how I smile! Without getting major dental work done or doing anything harmful to my teeth, are there any tips for getting over me feeling self-conscious about showing my teeth? i.e. I'm most asking for psychological aspect of things. I know I can get veneers, but I'd rather not.
posted by redwaterman to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't think about it too hard. Sure, that's pretty trite advice, but for what it's worth: I have a basically-toothless smile naturally. No one has ever said anything about it. Smile however you want, no one thinks you look weird.
posted by wrok at 5:32 PM on April 21, 2013

Would whitening help you feel better? There are affordable, safe over-the-counter options, like Crest White Strips or, my personal favorite, Rembrandt 2-Hour Whitening Kit.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:34 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just do it. No one even cares what your teeth look like.

And like you said, you feel like you look weird smiling without teeth, so smile with teeth and you'll look less weird. You'll look like a normal person with average teeth who smiles in an appropriate manner.
posted by grahamsletter at 5:38 PM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Good grief.... how hurtful. I know what you're going through --- my own mother once told me, and I quote, that I "look awful" in any shade of blue, and that took me YEARS to get past.

All I can suggest is that you try to forget it: she made the comment while you were wearing the braces, so probably it was **the braces** that she thought ugly, not your teeth themselves.
posted by easily confused at 5:38 PM on April 21, 2013

There is no one standard of beauty. Perfectly straight, pearl white teeth are not the only teeth that are attractive (although most people aren't looking at your teeth anyway). Personally, I think people look better with imperfect teeth that aren't blindingly white. I actually love crooked teeth. One day you might not have any teeth and you'll probably wish you had your "middle of the road" teeth to show off in pictures.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:44 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing that I've found helpful is thinking about teeth from a British perspective (really). In a time when everyone is getting them whitened in the U.S. and trying to make them perfectly straight, I realize that not everyone in the world thinks like this, and I prefer that perspective, personally.

If you can see a desire for perfect teeth as not being a virtue but a cultural obsession (and on the flipside, non-perfect teeth as a point of individual character), you might find some of what you need to not be as self-conscious about it.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:47 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding the statement that no one cares what your teeth look like. I think people get this idea that when someone looks at you, they're mentally comparing and ranking you against every face they've ever seen in their life, including celebrities and models. They're not.

However, you may want to talk to someone (therapy or something else) about how to manage the negative thoughts you have. I'm sorry that you have to deal with that, you don't deserve to have your smile stifled.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:02 PM on April 21, 2013

Try taking some fun self pictures with your phone or something. It sounds kind of dumb, but that helped me. You can also try to get a good "natural" smile without teeth. My front two teeth aren't straight, the rest are. I have figured out good angles and my "good side" that doesn't make my teeth look more crooked than they are.

Also start to look at other people. I'm sure there are people who don't have perfect teeth and you don't notice. They probably don't notice yours. However it's easier said than done to be happy with your smile.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:05 PM on April 21, 2013

Do you try to have a big smile in photos? I don't like the way my eyes kind of scrunch up in photos if I put on a big smile (with or without showing teeth) on command, so what I've learned to do is try to laugh or chuckle and then it usually comes out looking more natural, with my mouth open a bit but not in a teeth-baring way.

I was very self-conscious about my smile before that, so maybe if you could find a different way to smile naturally you'll be happier with the way you look in photos, which I think will translate into how you feel about your teeth in general.

FWIW, veneers and whitening have become so prevalent that I love seeing people with natural looking teeth, and think it can be kind of adorable. I have veneers on my two front teeth because I chipped one of them. Now the corner of one of my bottom teeth has chipped and I'm hoping I won't have to fix it because I rather like that they're not perfect.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:44 PM on April 21, 2013

Once when I was pretty little, probably 10 or 11 years old, my neighbour said I had funny looking knees. From that point onward, I wouldn't wear shorts... not even in the super hot and humid days of summer. But anyway, looking back I know that my neighbour wasn't meaning to be mean but was likely insecure herself. Perhaps your mother was insecure herself and poked at you a little. Now, while I still struggle to show my knees, I'm getting over it. I started wearing capris maybe seven years ago or so, then I started wearing skirts for the first time a few years ago. I've started caring less and less about what others think b/c I've realized for the most part, they don't care or notice my knees!

Maybe for you a first step could be a small smile with a little bit of teeth and then before you know it, you'll be smiling not remembering why you hated your teeth.

My mom spent her whole youth worrying about what others thought and always tried to blend in the background. Now, more than ever, she wishes she could have realized how cute she was and been more adventurous with clothes and all of that. I bet when you look back, you'll realize how cute your smile is/was and wish you had let it shine.
posted by DorothySmith at 6:48 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Goodness! Your teeth are just part of you, like your nose or that freckle on your cheek. Unless you really want to go the whitening route, I would just file that comment under "stuff my mom said that wasn't true." (Most of us have a couple of those.) Believe it or not, most people love our little imperfections-- and not just tolerate them-- but really like them. I just saw the singer Jewel on tv and I thought she had had plastic surgery or something, something was just different. Turns out she straightened out her famous crooked tooth. Such a shame! I always thought it was cute or added some cool character to her face. ( hope you'll feel like smiling...)
posted by hellochula at 7:28 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your mother was telling you how awful your teeth looked, but at the same time had you in braces? That is proof that she is completely illogical; thus, you can completely ignore her advice.
posted by notsnot at 7:35 PM on April 21, 2013

I don't know if this is pan-Asian, but Winnie in Amy Tan's The Kitchen God's Wife tells her husband's mistress (whom she likes and has asked to be taught better manners) not to show her teeth when she laughs because "it looks like a monkey" this may just be a culture issue.
posted by brujita at 8:15 PM on April 21, 2013

I lost my eyebrows, due to some sort of genetic hair-loss issue. I am self-conscious about it and I miss them. When they were merely thin, I penciled them in, which worked ok when there was some hair there. But now that they're totally gone, it would be obviously just pencil, so I go without.

Literally every time I have mentioned to someone that I'm self-conscious about my lack of eyebrows, they pause, look at my forehead for a beat, and then say, "Wow, I never noticed that." It's possible all these people are really good actors, but it's happened enough times that I think most people have genuinely never noticed this thing that I think is so noticeable. And, because I'm self-conscious about my non-eyebrows, I pay attention to other people's eyebrows, and so to me, eyebrows seem like something people notice about each other.

I bring this up not to distract you from your self-consciousness about your teeth, but to offer some anec-data that other people usually don't notice the thing about you that you focus most on. If you have trouble believing this, ask around. If you're really shy about it, ask a good friend who will tell you gently. If that goes well, ask someone a little more blunt. Work your way up to asking someone you feel pretty confident won't sugar-coat it. I really really bet people will either tell you they never noticed, or that they think you have a great smile and they wished you would smile for pictures more.
posted by pompelmo at 9:27 PM on April 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

You are a victim of a parent insulting a kid (which I am well aware is all too common in Asian culture since I grew up with Asian friends and still have a lot of Asian friends) and thus leaving a scar. The problem is not your teeth. The problem is that your mother made you feel bad about yourself. That's understandably hard to recover from, but I hope it might help if I tell you that she was terribly wrong to do that and your teeth are probably perfectly normal.
posted by Dansaman at 10:03 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine once told me: "Once I stopped watching television, real people started looking more beautiful". OK, so you're dealing with an insult from a parent here as well, but cutting down your exposure to "Hollywood teeth" will probably reduce the reinforcement you're getting for those negative feelings.
posted by pont at 10:11 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look at your friends' candid photos and think about how great they look with a smile (especially compared to not) and how their teeth aren't all perfect. That helped me a lot--I have similar issues (except I never was able to get braces...).

Also, I had my photo taken by a truly pro photographer -- a friend of mine who was killing some time -- and my smile looks great. If you have the connections or resources to do this, it can be revelatory!
posted by wintersweet at 10:21 PM on April 21, 2013

Just joining the chorus of people saying that nobody is examining your teeth so unless you are like actually missing an incisor or something, chances are almost nobody will notice any imperfections and of that small minority of people who do, almost none of them will care. Even your mother has probably forgotten what she said to you back in the day. This is something that only you care about -- everyone else is wrapped up in their own little idiosyncratic insecurities, and is too busy with them to notice yours.

As far as how to start smiling with teeth? Just start doing it intentionally. (This is what I did, when my mom told me that I should always smile with teeth in photos because otherwise I look weird. No joke.) It'll feel weird at first, but after a while it'll feel more natural. As far as photos, people are often fake-smiling in them anyway so it's OK if your smile feels a little off -- people are used to smiles looking a bit off in photos, and won't notice.
posted by Scientist at 10:40 PM on April 21, 2013

I used to be way more self-conscious about my teeth than I am now. In 2007, I was staying in a small, money-poor village. I was playing with a small child, and she was having a lot of fun. She was smiling with her head tilted back, mouth wide, and entirely happy in the moment. Most of her teeth were missing, and the rest were black stubs. But she was so beautiful! I saw the absurdity in holding back my smile.
posted by aniola at 10:42 PM on April 21, 2013

Best answer: I have large calves for my size and used to be insanely self-conscious about them. Like, I did not wear shorts or skirts for about twenty years.

At some point I mentioned that to a male friend who laughed and dared me to wear a skirt and see what happened. I did, and it was of course fine (children did not flee, colleagues did not point and sneer) ... and after that it became a running joke between us, about how absurd it was that I had thought my calves were so monstrous that people needed to be spared seeing them. (And about how women get appearance-policed, and appearance-police each other. I'm a feminist, so that way of thinking about it worked for me.)

What I realized over the years since is that nobody is really looking at you. Tiny imperfections or variances seem huge to us, particularly if we're female, and particularly when we're young. But it's really actually very egotistical, to think that other people have nothing more interesting to think about, than to scrutinize every detail of our appearance and form judgements about those details. Most people aren't paying that much attention: why on earth should they?

And obsessing over those details is a huge distraction from what really matters. Most people are not celebrities or models or motivational speakers. It's not our job to be polished and perfect visually, and presumably we have other skills and abilities that matter more. It's better and more fulfilling and more useful for us to focus on enhancing/developing/perfecting those aspects of ourselves that really actually matter, rather than trying to perfect (of all things) our visual self-display.

When I realized that, I found it liberating. So just smile! People will correctly infer that you're happy and kind: literally nobody is going to think negative things about you based on less-than-perfect teeth. Truly :-)
posted by Susan PG at 11:38 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Smile however you want, no one thinks you look weird.

Everyone looks beautiful when they smile so just smile big!
posted by three blind mice at 12:31 AM on April 22, 2013

I have only recently begun smiling with teeth for photos, and I didn't even realize I was doing it. I have pretty bad teeth, too. No cavities or anything... just quite crooked (I had braces, then never wore my retainer, rendering the work of the braces mostly useless... sigh stupid youth). I never noticed my teeth either until I overheard some other girls poking fun of some random actress or others' crooked teeth and/or bushy eyebrows. I was kind of horrified. I liked the acctress with the bushy eyebrows, and never even had noticed such a characteristic, and I definitely never noticed the crooked teeth, which made me think "wtf? do people really NOTICE these things?!"

But - my conclusion to this (mentally) was such: the girls who were gossiping thus were in their very early 20s; several were single or just got married, none had a career, they were essentially my little brother's wife's friends. Basically? They probably had tons of their own insecurities going on, and were of that age where you mitigate your insecurities by harping about those of others. Basically, I decided they didn't matter. At one point I opened my mouth: "I like (actress with bushy eyebrows), actually. I think she had a very cool/ethereal/artistic look in (x movie)." And then I shut up and continued smiling with my crooked teeth and not giving a shit.

Because in the Real World where people are older and wiser, we don't care about crooked teeth; and the sooner the people who DO care learn to not care either, the better!! I figure I'm doing a service to posterity by making the point at every opportunity that Who the Eff Cares.

So ... to sum up ... I advise you do the same. Few people care, and those who do, need to be shown that it really doesn't matter. So go ahead and show them.
posted by celtalitha at 12:34 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Changing habits requires practising a new habit to replace the old one.

Borrow or buy the most hideous and tasteless pair of reading glasses you can find, with correction that's way too strong and makes everything look blurry. Spend five minutes every day wearing those and doing big toothy smiles in the bathroom mirror. Do really big exaggerated grins and try to crack yourself up so you can practise big toothy laughing as well.

The glasses will stop you noticing anything at all about your teeth except the basic fact that you're showing them, and you can redirect any residual facial self-criticism toward the grotesqueness of the glasses themselves - which you will of course take off and leave in the bathroom cabinet before going out for the day.

Keep this up for a month and you'll be exposing your perfectly good teeth in public without even thinking about it.
posted by flabdablet at 4:43 AM on April 22, 2013

Get your teeth whitened professionally. It's not too expensive. You don't need veneers or anything major.
posted by stevedawg at 4:46 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add also that your mother may not have meant any harm. I am lucky to have a mother who is pretty clueless about feminine norms and who therefore never gender-policed me. (It probably just won me extra gender-policing from my peers, yahoo.) But I know tons of people whose mothers said similar things to them as yours said to you, and I don't think any of them meant to be hurtful. Quite the contrary: I expect they felt they were equipping their daughters to function in an imperfect world. We are all a little messed up by the patriarchy, and our moms aren't magically exempt from that.
posted by Susan PG at 6:45 AM on April 22, 2013

People will always give you their opinion. It's up to you if you want to take it to heart, or even believe them let alone entertain the thought.

I never felt particularly fond of my smile but I had straight teeth. Then when I was growing up my older sister laughed at me and "jokingly" referred to my smile as that of a joker. As in jester, fool, clown, jack in a deck of cards. Clearly I didn't receive a loving impression.

Then one day I was grocery shopping with my friend and her mom and we got separated. I started perusing the aisles somewhat aimlessly while looking for them and saw a gentleman at the end of one and smiled. I kept walking and I didn't give him a particularly notable smile but do you know what he did? This total stranger follows me and abashedly says to me something along the lines of 'You have a beautiful smile.'

I don't remember exactly what he said or what he looked like, all I knew at the time was "wow this totally random person came up to me and said they liked my smile".

It still makes me feel great inside after all these years because a smile is something that lights up your face. You can't be unattractive when you have a happy, smiling face. And they're usually contagious. Smile more and see if you don't notice more people smiling back.

Think of it this way, when you smile people can tell you're holding back (forced or without teeth) and can feel your dislike of the way you smile. But when smiling at strangers, you can't even see your smile! Practice friendly open smiles at passersby freely, and eventually you won't even think about it anymore because it won't really matter anymore.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:10 AM on April 22, 2013

I think you should just practice smiling with your teeth, deliberately. You know your teeth are nothing terrible! You just need to get into the habit of showing them. So, go watch a funny video or read a funny list or some other funny internet thing, and smile at it with your teeth. Smile with your teeth by yourself for a while and maybe that will be enough to get you doing it in front of others, in photos, etc.
posted by mskyle at 7:14 AM on April 22, 2013

Practice in front of a mirror. Smile and hold it, and see how you look. Do it again, and again, until you find a face that you like. Then practice that so you can do it on demand. Having a go-to expression that you know looks good will make you confident that you are happy with how you look.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:54 AM on April 22, 2013

Best answer: I was very self conscious for almost 10 years about smiling for photos because the orthodontist left some of the cement on my front teeth. It was noticeable after a year or so of not having braces, and over the years turned yellower and yellower - two squares on my two front teeth.

Long story short, I finally went to the dentist, after the aforementioned 10 years. I told the tech what my problem was. The dentist came in and after about 6 minutes of scraping and a little polishing, it was completely fixed.

No one I've ever mentioned it to had ever noticed in the first place. So 10 years of shyness and shame and whatever else, gone in 6 minutes.

No matter what, you're far more conscious of it than anyone will ever be.
posted by nevercalm at 12:34 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your teeth are so small in the average photo and the white balance on a camera is so relatively insensitive that teeth almost always come out looking white and straight no matter what.

Take a photo with you and another person or two smiling (teeth and all) and hand it to someone else, asking them to find the problem. They won't. That's proof that you really don't have a problem and shouldn't worry about it.

Good luck!
posted by cnc at 1:21 PM on April 22, 2013

Fwiw (this may not apply to your cultural upbringing but) my fiancee is Korean and the majority of solo pictures she takes she won't smile in them. Pictures with us together I can cajole her into smiling. She's told me it is cultural thing for not smiling in photos.
posted by andendau at 7:47 PM on April 22, 2013

I actually think not-perfect teeth are way more endearing that perfect-blindingly-white-chiclet teeth (I think Kirsten Dunst's snaggle-teeth are adorable).

For what it's worth.
posted by Windigo at 2:03 PM on April 23, 2013

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