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A smile is something people remember, love, and find comfort in. But not for me. I grew up hating pictures of myself and always opted out of saying, “Cheese!” when it came to taking photos. I never really embraced exposing what was beneath. I was scared and insecure about my smile.

As early as the seventh grade, I began to notice the imperfections of my uneven smile. The uneven smile that still haunts me today appeared in all my photos. It never really bothered me until my family members began to consistently point it out. They would always ask me, “Why are you smiling like that?” or the continuous, “Stop messing around and smile.” I confronted my parents about this and revealed my insecurities to them, but they only prolonged the Invisalign treatment because they believed that my teeth would fix itself in time. 

I suffered most of my teenage years feeling ashamed of my smile because it wasn’t like anyone else’s. I grew jealous of others and how they can just show their teeth without shame. I hated the way I looked in pictures, growing to hold a negative self-image of myself. To make things worse, new friends would point out my smile and asked why I would smile that way, leading to evading pictures or looking at myself. My self-consciousness magnified in high school, leading me to beg my parents for Invisalign. 

I was so happy that the ugly smile I had would never appear in pictures again, and I looked forward to having a “normal” smile. I was told that the treatment would last for just over a year. From that day, I waited patiently for the process to end. After days, weeks and months of hard, enduring and painful replacements of Invisalign retainers, I still saw no visible change. It wasn’t until after the treatment I realized my teeth were still the same as they were before. The day after, I was left crying in my bed, sad and feeling helpless as if all those years of pain were for nothing. Left heartbroken, I had to wear useless retainers for three years simply hoping that my teeth do not shift and make my smile worse than it already was. My retainers overall felt useless, as if it was dead weight on me the entire time but a dead weight that you can’t simply get rid of.

As the years progressed I grew used to my imperfect features; people around me became used to my smile and so did I. When, senior year rolled by, I decided to join the newspaper and become a photographer. This was because I wanted to take pictures of people and see others enjoy their smile, a way to hide behind the camera but still be part of the “photo.” It wasn’t until I met someone who said that I had a cute smile and that meant a lot to me. She told me that I should smile more often and there should be nothing to be ashamed about. Those words stuck by me, and that was when I truly began to accept myself for who I am.

Lately, people have been saying that my smile is nice, which really touches my heart. I’ve begun to realize that there’s no way to change it. The people I’ve become friends with lifted me up and helped me embrace my imperfections. When I look at photos of myself now, I don’t focus on a crooked smile; I think about how lucky I am to have great friends. They have accepted me, helping me accept my smile. Cheese!

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