As I launch into my usual complain-procrastinate-and-beg routine with my trainer at the gym, I can’t help but listen to the conversation two women are having on the radio. They are discussing, in depth, how “poised, grown up and stylish” the First Daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, looked as they celebrated the 2012 presidential victory with their parents. I agree with them, in fact, I am constantly struck by how well Malia and Sasha handle the pressure, scrutiny and media attention. The hosts go on to say that Malia is especially radiant because her braces have been recently taken off. Malia’s white, perfect teeth become the center of conversation.
Later that night, while doing some of my own research, I flip through childhood pictures. I can’t help but seriously wonder what the hell I was thinking, when, for instance, I got that overly curly perm? Just as I thought it could get no worse, I came across the most offensive pictures yet. I look at my strange, uncomfortable mouth (and the too-dark lipstick), and stare at my awkward smile. At first, I wonder if it’s just my stained adolescent teeth. Then, I remember my clear-braces fiasco.
I was thirteen at the time and my mom described me as a “hormonal teenager.” I had recently discovered boys and I began to care (probably too much) about how I looked. I asked my mom why I didn’t look like every other friend in my class picture — why did I have these clear, unusual braces? My mom burst out laughing as she explained that I was so overly upset about getting braces that I had fought my parents, dentist and orthodontist. I cried for days, and even begged my dentist to give me a removable retainer (which I swore I would wear all the time). My mom vividly recalls being annoyed at my resistance and obvious obsession with my appearance. My dad was tired of seeing me cry, and took pity on me. He convinced my mom to investigate alterative choices.
Imagine the scene: Two tired, yet patient parents, an overly accommodating dentist and
orthodontist and a stubborn (and spoiled) teenaged girl. I lived in a small, suburban town and the demand for clear braces had not exactly peaked. My orthodontist called and researched, and was able to obtain clear brackets (ones he promised would not stain my teeth). As I look now at my pictures, I know I have no one to blame but myself. As I look at my 14-year-old self, in family photos and class pictures, I must admit that for as bad as I may have looked, at the time, I felt pretty good about myself. I’m smiling, hugging my friends and making funny faces in many of the pictures. My clear braces — which I now realize looked awful — somehow made me feel better about myself.
As a self-conscious adolescent, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted when it came to my appearance. I suppose beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, which brings me back to the First Daughters. Will Malia and Sasha look back in ten years and be satisfied with the clothes they wore, and the hairstyles they chose? I feel lucky that I didn’t suffer the indignities of being a teenager in the public spotlight. I am thankful that my teenaged, clear-braced face wasn’t documented or scrutinized (until now, that is). Malia and Sasha are lucky to be elegant, or at least, to have the best hairdressers and clothing stylists at close hand.