I had braces as a kid, and although it was pretty much an all-around horrible experience (like a torture rack latched to your teeth for over a year – which is constantly being tightened by a white cloaked executioner)…I am now happy I had it done and out of the way by age 16. It is all a little blurry now, but to my recollection I used to have rather goofy teeth – and a bit of a snaggle overhang thing which must have been pretty unsightly to behold…in short I looked like piano keys someone had taken a bat to.
This isn’t thought to be an attractive look, it’s that “Hollywood smile” or nothing – right? Well so I was led to believe…so consequently after the shackles in my mouth were removed, and I was liberated to the rest of the normal toothed community I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief! “At last I can smile widely in photos, rather than just a tightly pursed smirk! Wahooo, the world’s my oyster!” (not an actual quote).
Anyway, I thought back to this momentous occasion recently due to my trip to Japan. As I wandered the streets there I couldn’t help but notice that…well not to be rude….and not to generalise but..well, most people didn’t have perfectly aligned teeth. Actually most had quite the opposite.
I was naturally a little uncomfortable that I had such a baseless shallow thought, so did my best to put it out of my mind. As if it was just a mirage in a desert, best ignored because it has no basis in reality. But then I kept seeing it over, and over. I even turned on my hotel room’s television…and there they were again; snaggletooth after snaggletooth, crooked teeth and even more crooked teeth…just what was going on here? Perhaps the “ordinary people” can be forgiven, but the Japanese A-listers? What do they think they are playing at?!
So I took to the internet as every person with a grievance does these days. I wanted to be told that it was all in my head, and that I was essentially an awful person for judging people on their looks, and blah blah blah. But what I actually discovered was a lot more intriguing…
You see what I had inadvertently stumbled into in Japan was somewhat of a cultural phenomenon…a one where so called bad teeth are held to a completely different set of rules. In Japan they don’t jam metal into their mouths to force them to comply to the beauty standards – instead they embrace yaeba 八重歯 – “the multi-layered tooth” – because it’s considered cute, and endearing in a child-like sort of way. They believe that the snaggletooth is not a look better suited to dinosaurs, and is instead down-right adorable!
It shouldn’t be much of surprise to hear that because of this trend the yaeba snaggletooth has ventured into Japanese cosmetic surgery…where people actually check in and ask for their teeth to be given an uneven appearance and/or to be provided with extra fake fangs. This is a small minority of course, but as there is also no standard of beauty that dictates straight teeth should be the sole goal, there is generally not much motivation to fix crooked, and bad teeth. As they are only thought to be a bad thing in the west – there’s a bit of a “who even cares?” mentality I suppose.
Wish I knew that before I got braces mind you…a year of pain, and slurping at luke-warm soup. Urgh…could have just moved to Japan! Anyway, in all seriousness it made me recognise how silly, trite, and banal our preset ideas about beauty really are. In one place we are told things should be one way, and in another it is the complete opposite. It’s ridiculous really, it should just be about feeling comfortable in yourself…but instead we feel drawn to complying.
I wonder why this is?