I have a gap.
Between my two front teeth. Also known as a diastema. It’s a trait I inherited from my father, who has one, as does his sister (my aunt), as did their father (my grandfather), and, near as I can tell from old pictures, as did his father as well. This Kinzel smile is distinctive, and in old Olan Mills portraits with my dad and me, our grins are virtually identical -- not surprising, considering I grew up hearing from every adult ever that I had my father’s smile.
I never really thought about it until I got to middle school, and so many of my friends had braces. There was some conversation on whether I should get my gap closed, although I don’t know who instigated it. I suspect it was me. My gap was the one thing that made my otherwise straight teeth “imperfect,” and no amount of rapturous references my mom made to Lauren Hutton -- a 1970s model famed for her refusal to “fix” her own gap, which ironically contributed to her success as a fresh new face -- could make me okay with it.
I developed a habit of smiling with my mouth closed for pictures, my pursed lips looking more tense and anxious than genuinely cheerful, but still, I preferred these pictures to the ones with my mouth open and my gap in view. I even did this for my class pictures in the 7th and 8th grades; in them, I look like I’ve tasted something unexpectedly sour and am trying to laugh it off in the most unconvincing manner possible.
Obviously, I never fixed my gap. I mean, how bad was it, really? Freaking MADONNA has one. I cringed my way through Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in high school, in which arguably the most famous historic diastema -- the gap-toothed Wife of Bath -- was portrayed as outspoken and inappropriate and most horrifyingly, LUSTFUL -- all things I appreciate now but that in 11th grade I found humiliating. (Apparently, the association of gap-toothed-ness with sexual promiscuity was popular going back to the Middle Ages.)
And then, in recent years, something weird has happened: gaps have become popular. Model Lara Stone has a gap. Anna Paquin has a gap. On a 2010 episode of America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks even recommended one young hopeful have the gap in her teeth widened by cosmetic dentistry, and the woman actually did it.
(This, when in a previous year Banks instructed a different “girl” to get her gap closed. Gap-toothed ladies can’t win for losing, I guess.)
I’ll admit that all this new gap-visibility has been pleasant for me, and has made it a little easier to be cool with my own gap. Yes, on rare occasions I will see my open-mouthed smile in a picture and impulsively frown at it, but most of the time I do like my gap, if only because it makes me look like me, and I can’t ever imagine getting rid of it now.
That said, my self-acceptance does sometimes have limits -- there are certain small cosmetic things I will always do, and I’m trying to feel as OK with that as I do about keeping the alleged “imperfections” that make me different.
FOR EXAMPLE: I have this thing about moles.
Not other people’s moles! Everybody love your moles. Seriously. But alongside the genes that gave me my gap, I also have genes that make me extraordinarily prone to developing raised moles and skin tags. I HATE THIS SHIT. I cannot have them removed quickly enough. (Flat moles, inexplicably, I am fine with, but don’t ask me to explain that.)
I make regular and predictable trips to the dermatologist for this purpose, even though I have to pay for it out of pocket because insurance doesn’t cover this sort of purely cosmetic thing, AND even though the derm is always all, “You know these will just come back, right?” about the skin tags. I don’t even care. CUT THEM OFF, I WILL COME BACK AGAIN WHEN THEY DO and the fact that it hurts to have it done is sort of a sick pleasure. Also that burning-flesh smell of the cauterizer. OK, this got gross really fast.
I had a largeish raised mole on my face throughout my childhood, and always assumed I’d have to live with it forever, until my first derm trip in my late teens, when it was suggested that I could have it removed.
I hesitated -- wouldn’t getting it removed be less positive and healthy than working to accept it as part of my face? Seriously, I agonized for whole minutes on what this decision would say about my self-esteem and self acceptance before saying sure, take it off.
And honestly? I’m still glad that I did. It annoyed me, and now it doesn’t annoy me anymore, and sometimes I think the area of self-compassion I REALLY need to work on is accepting that I am allowed to be superficial and shallow about some stuff without it making me a terrible person.
SO! Your turn now. Do you have a so-called “imperfection” that you love and would never change? Or it is just the opposite? Or is it BOTH? Tell us what you love, what you are trying to accept and forgive, and what you hate in comments.