Sometimes it takes an outsider to truly see the things Americans take for granted. That’s the case with Hannah Thomas-Peter, a US correspondent for British news site Sky News. When she came to the US, she realized that teeth mean so much more in America than in Britain, and possibly other places in the world. A beautiful smile is so much more than a cosmetic change.
Healthy Teeth Getting the Wrong Kind of Attention
When Thomas-Peter came to the US, she had what she describes as “my absolutely-healthy-but-reasonably-mediocre-NHS-teeth.” She quickly learned that mediocre was not actually acceptable in the circles she was running in in New York City.
She says, “I could see people looking at them when I talked, wondering why they weren’t bright white, why, despite years of braces, the alignment was, to quote my own dentist, “far from perfect”.” And, she says, she realized that they were getting attention “for all the wrong reasons.”
But she was able to get her teeth fixed, and when she looks at herself in the mirror, she sees the difference it has made. She is partly ashamed, but she doesn’t want to undo the effects because “my membership to the straight teeth club too beneficial in too many ways.” She says, “Really straight, white teeth are in fact a powerful social currency.They are a passport, a constantly on display indication of wealth, opportunity, and a stable home surrounded by people who’ve been able to afford to care for you in every way.” As she notes, there is no more conspicuous marker of your status than your smile, which is “literally written on people’s faces.”
The Reality of America
Although there is a fair amount of criticism in Thomas-Peter’s piece, there is also an acceptance that this is the truth of America. There are many reasons why smiles matter more in America than in other places in the world. Of course, there is the capitalist system that privileges signs of wealth the way other societies (like Britain) privilege signs of royalty or breeding.
But America’s history is also unique, and recent research explains how that contributes to the unique nature of America’s smile. This study compared the tendency to smile in countries that were diverse as opposed to those that had a population where people mostly shared the same background. They found that in more diverse societies–especially those made up of immigrants–smiles were more important. So it makes sense that American culture would emphasize the importance of a smile.
So when life leaves its mark on your smile it’s important to do what you can to restore your healthy and beautiful smile.