Friday, 5 June 2020

My Chipped Front Teeth & What They've Taught Me




Dear Front Teeth,

The broken, discoloured, unsightly pair of you have impacted my life for the last 30 years in ways a simple bit of mineral probably never thought it could!

Ever since the day you fell to pieces - smashed into the kerb as my 8 year old self ran into school one day, ignoring the calls of my father to slow down and tripping over my own clumsy feet in the process - you've been my achilles heel.

I remember that day vividly. I'd been home for my lunch break. I'd had cheese on toast while watching the afternoon re-run of last night's Home & Away. 

I was worried about missing the afternoon register so I bolted out of the car and towards the school.
I remember Dad calling out to me "Slow down Hayley...." - the words reaching my ears right at the point that my feet tangled up together and my body went hurtling toward the ground at speed.

I remember seeing the concrete coming closer to my face, almost in slow-motion as I tensed my body - preparing myself for the inevitable grazed knees and the nasty bit of blue paper towel I'd undoubtedly have to gingerly press to my skin for the next hour or so.

I remember everything going black for a moment. Until suddenly the world appeared again as my Dad hoisted me up, took one look at my shell shocked face and said the poetic words that immediately alerted me to the fact that I'd be needing more than a paper towel......"Oh shit!"

It's all a bit of a blur after that.  I remember my mouth feeling funny. I remember the blood that somehow ended up smeared all over the headmasters car, I remember my Dad carrying me away and driving me quickly back home.

I remember him telling me not to look in the mirror. I remember the look of annoyance on my Mum's face as she saw me walking back up the path, which quickly turned to horror when she saw the state I was in.

I remember the dentist who told my Mum there wasn't really anything they could do for me until I was older.

From then on, you were the thing I looked at first whenever I saw myself in the mirror or in a photograph.

You became the physical focal point for my own self loathing.

There were just two stumps of tooth left. You'd been smashed almost at the halfway point but it wasn't a straight break - instead you were chipped on an angle, with jagged edges.

As time went on, you started to turn a rather horrible shade of brown inside - which became more and more noticeable over the years.

I seemed to spend a lot of time at various dentists offices, but for some reason nothing ever really seemed to come from it. You remained the same- broken, discoloured, unsightly.

Even when a dentist did eventually try to repair you when I was 20, the caps were always really noticeable and they discoloured eventually too. 

I've spent my whole life hating you ever since that day.

I've never felt comfortable smiling or laughing. Which has meant that every single second of public joy I've experienced has been tinged with self-consciousness and anxiety.

I've always felt that the presence of you made me even weirder than I already felt, even uglier than I already felt I was.

You gave the kids at school something easy and obvious to focus on when they wanted to pick on and humiliate me.

You drew the eye of strangers and made me more aware of the anxiety I have always felt at the perceptions of others.

And even now, at 38 years old - you give the trolls something else to mock and judge me for.

So imagine my sheer delight when, a few weeks into lock down - when dentists are off limits, the cap fell off one of you - leaving that jagged half-tooth exposed once again for all to see.

For a little while, I was right back to my 8 year old self again. Feeling ugly and exposed. Steeling myself for the harsh mocking of others and the thinly-veiled stares from strangers in supermarkets.
People who've never experienced broken front teeth would probably think that statement dramatic - because surely a simple broken tooth doesn't draw the eye does it?!

Oh but it does. People stare at damaged teeth, and they make their own assumptions. I've had people assume my teeth look the way they do because of drug use, poor food and drink choices, poor hygiene, physical fights....nobody ever thinks "childhood accident".

For weeks I didn't dare speak on my Instagram stories for fear of allowing people to see you - they mock enough when the caps are there, imagine the fun they'd have now that my jagged half tooth is there for all to see!

But one day, I happened across a woman on a Tik Tok video.

A woman with no nose.

In my absolute naivety, I have to admit - this was something I hadn't even realised could happen to people.

I had never seen a person without a nose before. Initially, her appearance took me by surprise.
I wanted to know how she'd come to be without her nose, I wanted to know how common this is and why I'd never even realised before that it can happen.

Then I listened to her, as she spoke about the abuse she experiences on social media every day because of her face - of how often her videos are reported as inappropriate content because of the way she looks.

I watched more and more of her videos, listening to her life experiences and learning from her wisdom - wisdom she'd collected throughout years of dealing with cruelty and judgement from others.

Well guess what, teeth?

Since discovering that incredible, strong woman - I've FINALLY come to realise that beauty doesn't lie in the physical attributes which will diminish and deplete as the years march on. It lies in the strength we carry within our souls, the lessons we learn along the way in life and the goodness in our hearts.

I was wrong to hate you for the things I've experienced in my life because of you.

I should have been grateful, all along.

You taught me that sometimes, people are mean - they can judge others based on the most shallow of things.

You taught me that not everyone is a person who deserves my time.

You taught me that I can survive hard things - loneliness, feeling different, being the outsider, being the one without a playmate at break time, being the one nobody wants to partner up with in PE.

You taught me that bullies don't only exist in childhood, but that some adults are incapable of growing out of bullying behaviour.

You taught me that these people are to be pitied rather than feared - their judgemental nature and lack of human kindness speaks volumes about them, and what a miserable existence they must be leading.

You taught me that the right people are the ones who see the person we are in our hearts and minds, without basing their opinions of us on our physical appearances.

You taught me strength, resilience, and - in a strange way - eventually you have taught me how to have confidence.

Because confidence is not about being perfect.

It's about knowing that you have worth beyond the sum of your parts.

Whether other people see that worth or not.

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