An Ode To Gap-Toothed Women

March 5, 2019

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my so-called flaws. I’m not sure what it is about entering my late thirties, but something about it has me questioning my physical appearance more than ever.

I’d like to think I’m the type of woman who will age gracefully (but with a dash of rebellion). I want to take pride in my wrinkles and sagging skin. On a good day, I am that woman. Other days, I look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. My face has dark spots, wrinkles and the beginnings of sagging eyelids. I look at them and try to remain indifferent; nothing makeup and good skincare can’t improve, but it does get me thinking. Screw this culture and its shaming of aging women. It’s almost impossible for me not to get insecure. The messages are everywhere.

On a good day, I am that woman. Other days, I look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself.

I started thinking about what some may call my “quirky” features. One in particular—my gap teeth. To be fair, my teeth have never really been an issue for me. Growing up, I wasn’t ashamed of them. As a young girl, I had gaps in my teeth, but those were “cute and childlike.” As an adolescent, I had big buck teeth, but again, I got braces and “fixed” them. Years later, my teeth began to shift and my two front teeth parted ways. My gap’s on the thinner side, but I’m still a part of the club. One that I’m now feeling quite proud to be a member of.

Most people don’t notice it or don’t mention it, but on occasion people will say, “your teeth!” very excitedly, like they never noticed them before. It’s said with such exuberance that it startles me. I don’t totally get why that happens. I can imagine for women with larger gaps, this occurs on a regular basis. I can’t help but feel self-conscious when someone calls me out on my features, despite if they like them or not. That’s probably because American culture doesn’t associate gap teeth with beauty. Teeth are supposed to be perfectly straight and perfectly white. Unconventional beauty isn’t what our culture promotes. I once read that men don’t find women with gap teeth attractive. Thankfully, this isn’t true of all men, but it reinforces to women that their natural beauty isn’t up to men’s standards. Why should a man be the deciding factor for what makes a woman beautiful?

In the documentary from the 1980s by Les Blank, Gap-Toothed Women, Blank has women talk about the folklore of women with a gap. He honors women who take pride in their imperfect teeth. It delighted me so much that I bought the DVD (and I don’t even own a DVD-player!). “…gap teeth have been looked upon as the essence of beauty in various societies, as a sign of sexual appetite, as a mark of God’s favor…” (New York Times, 1987). In Africa, especially Nigeria, women with gap teeth are considered beautiful beings. They are thought to be very sexual and provocative. Men want to be with her and women want to be her. It’s interesting how other cultures have such different standards of beauty.

Think of them as beautiful, cool—your own lucky charm.

Thankfully, more cultures are starting to embrace women for their natural beauty and many famous models and actresses are making gap teeth not only beautiful, but cool. The French have a saying, les dents du bonheur, meaning “lucky teeth” or “tooth happiness.”

I’m working to push past my own insecurities. Yes, my nose is bigger; yes, I have cellulite; yes, I have deep wrinkles forming on my forehead; yes, I have a slit in-between my two front teeth. Life’s too short to focus on them. Practicing mind shifts helps me reframe negative thinking. This isn’t to say that I won’t ever do things to alter my appearance. I think women should be free to do whatever they want in order to feel confident. However, for now, I’m trying to embrace it naturally.

Remember, when you think you’re beautiful, it shines so bright out of you that it’s contagious. So for all you fellow gap-toothed ladies, don’t look at your teeth as a flaw, a setback, or something to fix. Think of them as beautiful, cool—your own lucky charm.

 

Image sources: Les Blank Films, Ruby Campbell, Felicia Svanberg, Kay Smetsers, Erica Chidi Cohen, Sarah Shabacon, Tyvanni Ebuehi, Lauren Hutton, me.