I think generally speaking, one of the most pressing aspects of being a young adult or teenager in the modern world is the attention put on looks. It dominates our feeds and almost every advertisement we’ll ever see. Looks are, of course, important – it’s the first thing we judge others based on, and also typically part of the reason we enjoy the presence of others – however it’s certainly an overbearing factor for a lot of anxiety. So, when I got the news that I would need braces for a second time at 16, my whole Earth shattered. I’m fairly certain I had a full-fledged tantrum, and told my mom I would never open my mouth again. I felt ugly, unlucky, childish, and unlovable.

In my juvenile, 16 year old brain, I had convinced myself that the most interesting aspect of myself was my appearance – brought upon me by social expectations, sexism, and pure insecurity. Looking back at it now, of course it feels ridiculous. How could the position of my teeth possibly equal my worth as a human being? Why would I want to be around people who didn’t love or accept me just because I had braces? The view is always clearer at the end of the journey, but it’s funny to me now how much it mattered. But the funny thing is, in a sentimental totally cheesy type of way, they kind of made me who I am now.

Having to deal with the constant worry and pressure that I never smiled right, my braces took up too much space on my face, or I looked 13 years old, forced me to get over myself a little bit. I had friends whose parents could afford to give them braces in middle school when everyone had them, and that thought humbled me. My parents were paying a lot of money for something purely aesthetic just so at the end of the road I would have an attractive smile. And that is a massive luxury! The hyper-fixation on my looks also forced me to, ironically, care less about appearance over time. I can safely say that over the 2 ½ years I had braces – I just got them off 2 months ago (yes that means they were technically adult braces) – I underwent a massive shift in how I speak and feel about myself.

Since I didn’t want to acknowledge my looks, I began to spend more time working on how I presented myself socially and the dimensions of my personality. I came to terms with and projected outwardly that I am capable and worthy based on my inner self, and looks come secondary. This never completely eradicated my self-consciousness, but by playing the part of the confident person, I slowly actually became her. So now, looking back, I can see the growth and notice differences in people’s behavior now that my braces are gone. People do pay me more attention and give me more respect, strangely. More people find me generally attractive and voice that to me. I’ve also had people tell me I look much older than my age, versus being told I looked younger with braces. But the difference is, now I notice who is giving me that attention and how they do so. For example, I notice more when people compliment me, how they say it and what exactly they mean. I would now much rather be told I’m a loyal, patient person than be told I’m “pretty”. So while it was embarrassing and annoying, and sometimes painful, having braces in my late teens also made me raise my standards for how I’m treated.

Now, that might sound weird – compliments are lovely and any at all are obviously so nice. All this is just to say that my experience changed the way I view confidence and how we interact with one another. The people who’ve known me for years will tell you that although now I would confidently announce that I think I look good at any given point in time, that took a lot of patience, trial and error, and growing up to reach. So all this to say that even though you might hate that one birthmark, or you think your eyebrows are shaped funny, or you even have braces; none of it matters. The goal of life is not to be perfect, it’s to enjoy the ride.

Besides, even Rihanna had a glow-up phase.

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Indiana Daily Student

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