Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Do looks matter?

Not as much as what’s inside, as I’ve been taught ever since I can remember. And of course I fully intend to teach my daughter this as well. But a few things have happened lately to make me realize that despite my non-makeup-wearing, non-fashion-following ways, in my heart of hearts appearance does still matter. That is to say, I am vain.

When we were on holiday at the cabin, the first night we were there, I broke my dental veneer by biting into a chicken bone. I first had cheap ceramic dental veneers, six of them on my top front teeth, installed in 1999. In 2006, I got those removed and had expensive porcelain veneers put in. (How expensive? Well, my dentist persuaded my insurance to cover part of it. My portion was only $1800.) What I didn’t realize until the procedure was underway was that my real teeth would be significantly ground down and then the veneers fitted over top of them. My actual teeth are now crooked, filed down to a point, and nearly black, having not seen a toothbrush in ten years. Underneath my brilliantly white veneers, I have the teeth of a pirate.

So, to review, one of my veneers broke off on a Saturday night, miles from civilization and surrounded by family and friends.

What would you do?

Here’s what I did: I summoned my husband, and with a hand covering my mouth, explained the situation. When he asked me to show him, I teared up and was actually unable to move my hand away. He fashioned a bandanna for me to wear over my mouth, causing great hilarity amongst my family, who compared me to a stagecoach robber. As soon as it was decent to do so, I retired with Gwen to the tent, hiding away from all curious (and mocking) eyes.

First thing the next morning, bandanna-clad, I asked my dad to drive me out into the bay (there’s no cell reception at the cabin) to call the emergency room. They put me in touch with a dentist and we made arrangements to meet at her office. She urged me to wait until Monday, since I wasn’t in pain, stating that there would be an additional “emergency” fee payable for doing the work on a weekend. I insisted that I would pay it.

The dentist wasn’t even sure she could be of any help, but I pleaded with her to meet with me and do what she could. My dad drove me down the lake and we agreed to meet at the marina two hours later. Off I went to the dentist, who was fairly grouchy at having her weekend interrupted, but was able to glue on the front part of the veneer, once again camouflaging my pirate tooth. She gave no guarantees how long it would stay on, and advised me to see my own dentist as soon as I got back to Nanaimo. The fee was $160. I paid it happily.

Before I left, feeling much more like myself, I made one more request. Somewhat sheepishly, I asked if the dentist could give me one of her facemasks to wear, in case the veneer came off again. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Aren’t you up the lake? Just with family and friends? Who’s going to see you?”

“My family and friends,” I answered. “I’ve been walking around with this on.” I showed her the bandanna. She obviously thought I was being ridiculous, but she gave me a mask anyway. I was surprised by this reaction, as I would have expected anyone in a situation similar to mine would have done whatever he or she could to hide the tooth in question. It got me thinking. What would you do?

Another outlet for my vanity is Gwen. Lately, it’s her hair. I love putting her hair in pigtails, and I’ve recently learned that the best place to do this is in her booster seat while she is eating. She is usually pretty tolerant of it, and sometimes I will hold up a mirror afterwards and show her how pretty she is. She likes to take her turn and brush her own hair, as well.

Gwen really has a lot of hair, and it’s thick and longer than it looks, because it’s quite curly at the back. During the heat of the summer, I really felt that putting her hair in pigtails would keep her a little cooler and more comfortable. But the problem is that Gwen usually doesn’t wake up in the morning until after I have left for work, and I don’t get a chance to do her hair. I have offered to teach Chris how to do it, but he isn’t interested. The fact that this bothers me is another wake-up call that apparently, looks matter to me more than I thought. (It also bothers me when she is dressed in mismatched clothes, but that doesn’t happen very often.)

I can rationalize both of these vanities, by the way. Dressing one’s child in the most adorable clothes possible is practically a rite of parenthood. I never quite understood the attraction before becoming a parent myself, but now I can see how dressing a tiny, immobile infant in attractive clothes is a visible way to show others that you care about this child, that you are taking pride in him or her, and enjoy showing your love by doing the things that your baby cannot do for him or herself. A baby dressed in a colourful, matching outfit appears to be better-cared-for than one who is dressed in a faded, burp-stained onesie. And those appearances become important for the same reason that poop does: we have so very few indicators of how a child is doing that those we do have, though circumstantial and tangential, become magnified in importance.

Therefore, a good and caring mother makes sure her daughter’s hair is shown off to its best advantage.

This post is getting long, so I’ll save the rationalizing about my teeth for another day. But I’d love to know your thoughts on vanity (for yourself or others) and whether you think appearances matter.


Amberism said...

I think appearances *shouldn't* matter, but they *do* matter.

And man, teeth matter A LOT in this society. My best friend broke off the crown of one of her front teeth so she didn't have a tooth! yeah, she hid too. Bad teeth, no matter what the *real* cause may be just scream bad hygeine in our society. Even though we know that often isn't the case at all! It's like crooked teeth hint of your social class. My Mom scrimped and saved and fought my Dad to get my teeth fixed and I know in my heart that if she didn't, the outcome of my life probably would have played out A LOT differently. It's not right, but it's true.

All of this shouldn't matter and I would have encouraged you not to worry about the bandana and just be yourself. But, like you, I would have paid the $160 happily and have been wearing the bandana.

Now that I have a kid actively trying to dress himself, I can appreciate how much fun it was to dress him. I find myself telling people he dressed himself too...

Anonymous said...

I spent over 10,000$ to have oral surgery which drastically changed my appearance to the point - people don't recognize me - they think I look familiar but are unsure - then they hear my voice and are confused until I tell it's me!

I can TOTALLY understand your vainity complex.
I would freak out and do the EXACT same thing you did. I am shocked by the dentist's reaction.

I have a fear that I will pass my horride dental problems to my children. I think that's why I have chose a strong appearance man (which amazingly straight and perfect teeth).

But. When I think about it. It did bug me as a child, but I am sure it had an effect of who I am today.

Unknown said...

Laura, the very fact that you wrote this post shows that you are not "mindlessly" vain - at least you are self-aware. For myself, I would have just let others see my teeth (in fact I probably wouldn't have had my teeth capped in the first place), but hey - I'm a guy.

Also, I think a tooth job is much farther down the vanity scale than a lot of other things women (and men) get done to themselves these days. If "vain" means "shallow" or "unintelligent", then NO you are definitely NOT vain.

I think for all of us our poise and self-confidence to some extent depends on our appearance. Bottom line, when I picked you up from the dentist my self-assured, happy, positive girl was back - how could anyone say that's wrong?

As for Gwen, you are right to be proud of her appearance, and to make her look her best - she really is a pretty little girl. Knowing you, I'm sure Gwen will NOT be receving the message that her appearance is the only thing that matters.


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