I have a crooked tooth.
My left lateral incisor, to be precise, is raked on an angle that makes it seem like that friend who never stands normally in photos but twists herself into some Victoria Beckham “look, my waist is only 3 inches wide!” pose.
My dad once told me he found the tooth so distracting that he could hardly pay attention to what I was saying, that good teeth are pretty critical to career success, and would I like to get braces?
But my dentist had already covered that. It would be purely for cosmetic reasons, he said, because I have a perfect bite.
And I had thought, so what then? You straighten my crooked tooth and I move on to confront my next flaw in a long list of imperfections? Where would it end?
I was 13 at the time, and I thought to myself, it ends here. None of these imperfections are structural, biomechanical, medical. They’re just cosmetic. This is my body. If I can’t love it for what it is, (strong, healthy, well-aligned, imperfect), why would anyone else?
(I had some mini Buddha moments when I was a kid. Pity I couldn’t hold on to all that “fuck you, I’m beautiful just like this” wisdom for the entire ride.)
So, here I am at 37, with a good bite, plenty of laugh lines and a crooked tooth that may or may not have made it difficult for people to take me seriously.
I’m on a roadtrip and I can feel some residue of an eat-it-on-our-laps-to-save-time snack stuck in my teeth. I flip the sun visor down and look in the mirror, turning my head this way, that way, this way, that.
I notice that when I turn my head to the left, showing a mouthful of smooth straight teeth (what I think of as “my good side”), the crooked tooth sticks out, bigger and more obvious than ever. When I turn my head back the other way, putting the crooked tooth front and centre, it’s hardly noticeable. I turn my head, left, right, left, right. Huh.
If I try and hide my weakness, it sticks out. Like a calcified sore thumb.
If I put it out there, it fades into insignificance. It barely registers.
Mini Buddha moment, part 2: Self, I say, to my snaggle-toothed reflection. It seems you will make your flaws bigger than they are by trying to hide them. Your self-consciousness will be like a magnifying glass, like a tripping point.
For a moment, I wish I had some explosives in the glove box so I could blow up the book of wisdom (full of headlines cut out of women’s magazines) that says, “put your best foot forward.”
I would write in the sky with sparklers, instead:
Put your worst foot forward. Lead with your imperfect self. And in that trailing space, in which nobody has even noticed you are anything less-than, follow through with the full momentum of your amazingness.