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Braces, Dolezal, and the Question of Appearance

With two teenagers in the house, the issue of braces has come up a few times.  My children have a mother that was born with naturally crooked teeth and they have inherited them, to varying degrees.

At our most recent visit to the dentist, the recommendation was made again, and we confirmed that yes, we will be seeing an orthodontist soon for an assessment … and a quote.

braces dolezal

I’ve always just taken straight teeth for granted.  My parents were very proactive at getting my teeth straightened, and for good reason.  They were brutally crooked.  My boys’ teeth aren’t quite so bad as mine were, and truthfully, it probably doesn’t matter as much for them.  For better or worse, we live in a society where the physical appearance of men is not nearly so important as that of women.

So on the way home from that dentist visit, I went through what the dentist was talking about with my son.  She will be sending him for a consultation for braces because his teeth are crooked.  Not because he’s having headaches or his mouth is dangerously crowded or for any medical reason.  It’s simply because his teeth are crooked.  It’s a purely cosmetic procedure.

My son.  The strong-willed, everything is black and white, super logical one.  I’ve tried to teach all of my children the skills of logic and practical, unemotional thinking.  I’ve tried to instill in them an appreciation for debate and for facts, and for reasoning that is based on evidence.  And apparently it worked.

My son said “Why do I even need braces?”

I said “Because in our society, appearances are important.  As a parent, I want to make sure you look your best when you’re applying for a job or meeting new people.”

My son said “But Mom, you’ve always told me I’m handsome the way I am.  Why should I change my appearance to make other people happy?

Huh.

What I thought was “How crazy am I to be telling my child to permanently, painfully and procedurally change his appearance … for a job??!!”

What I said was “Hmm.  You have a point.

And I think he really does.

Rachel Dolezal is still making the news with her artificially darkened skin and her faux “natural hair”.  She has been called many things, but most often a fake and a liar.

I do believe she has the right to be who she wants to be.  But that’s not the issue.  The issue is that she has been presenting an untrue image of who she is.  That image is one that was integral to her job and her volunteer positions.

So if it’s wrong for Rachel Dolezal to change her appearance, whether permanently or temporarily, to maintain a position, how can I tell my son that he should permanently change his appearance to get a job?

And why is one form of image change culturally accepted, and one is not?  If a cover model has had plastic surgery, teeth whitening and liposuction, should she be required to tell everyone that what she looks like now is not what she looked like before?

Where do we draw the line?

Is it restricted to race, like in Rachel Dolezal’s case?

Or can it be extrapolated to other areas?

Is it something that should be left up to the child?  Should it be a matter of letting them decide based on how they feel about their appearance?  Haircuts, shaving and makeup are temporary, non-invasive methods of changing our appearance.  But I think the more important question is that of permanent changes, ones that require procedures and pain-killers.

For the record, I would not have chosen to go through the pain, annoyance and teasing that go hand-in-hand with braces, but I’m glad (now!) that my parents didn’t give me an option.

Still, as a parent now myself, I have a very hard time enforcing something when I can see a logical reason not to.  Knowing that he could quite easily wait and get his teeth straightened as an adult if he decides he wants to, makes it even harder.

Where do you stand on issues like braces? 

Would you require your child to get their teeth straightened even if they didn’t want to?

Article written by:

Megan is a WAHM to 3 (and then some) kids, who spends the majority of her time working as an Administrative Assistant, blogging and washing dishes. She loves to write about her adventures in parenting, running a home daycare, adoption and whatever else strikes her fancy!

19 Comments

  1. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)

    I had braces for a reason other than crooked teeth and they were brutal. I hope my kids don’t need them.

  2. MryJhnsn (@mryjhnsn)

    I’m all for braces! I have a job where I see people all day and have to smile. My parents could not afford the payments on my braces many years ago and while I was happy then, I’m self-conscious now. What the dentist may not have told you is that the earlier they are done, they less painful and more permanent the results. We are looking into it now for my nine-year-old.
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  3. Michele

    I had braces when I was young and they partially ate through the enamel on my teeth! Between the wires and those horrible rubber bands—but at least they did it to me because of an overbite—I think I would have been better off without them!!
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  4. Ourfamilyworld

    I’m all for braces, too, but I don’t think I will force my kids if they don’t want to. I would try to explain the importance of having nice teeth and convince them, that’s as far as it goes.
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  5. Jacob Fu

    I had braces as a kid. Unfortunately I didn’t keep up with wearing my retainer afterwards and I definitely regret that. I don’t remember if I wanted them or not, but I’m all for them now.
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  6. Amanda Tempel

    That’s a hard thing to think about – But I think maybe it would be good to let your son decide. If he’s happy, then he should keep them the way they are. Braces are always an option in the future, should he change his mind.

  7. Heather

    Wow, your son certainly has a valid point. I mean if there is no medical issue and he’s fine with them, I suppose let him get braces when he’s ready for them. Besides, if he waits til he’s an adult, then you won’t have to pay for them. 😉
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  8. Miranda (Myrabev)

    I think if there is no medical reason for him to have them then why should he? He does raise a valid point and am sure his just as handsome.
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  9. Franc Ramon

    When I was a kid, I wanted braces because it looks so cool back then but the dentist told me my teeth were already straight. I guess it’s better to have it corrected early though.
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  10. Angie

    First off I love how you have taught your kids to think critically. So important!! As for braces, know I’m biased because I’m a hygienist but although mostly for cosmetic reasons it is not entirely. Crooked teeth can make your mouth more at risk for problems. It could lead to bite issues or a gum disease risk in the future even if he’s ok in those areas now. Since gum disease/inflammation is bad for the body that’s a big deal. I for sure am not giving my kids a choice if it comes to that :-).
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  11. Rosey

    I see his point. Several very famous people with not straight teeth instantly came to mind. Guess they have the same mindset. 🙂

  12. Ron

    I think the key here is proper explanation. If my kid knows that the braces are for their good in the long run, there won’t be any problem at all.
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  13. Jeanine

    I don’t know if I would if my kids didn’t want to. I needed them as a kid but we couldn’t afford them, and I’ve regretted it ever since. If my kids needed them, it would for sure need to be talked about.
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  14. Rebecca Swenor

    This is a great post indeed and a great question for parents. My self I would leave it up to the child as far a braces go. I was thinking maybe there is an app or something so he could see before and after pictures than make his discussion. I do love how he is comfortable in his own skin though. You should be so proud. Thanks for sharing.

  15. CourtneyLynne

    I really hope my daughter has my teeth! I have the most perfect looking teeth ever! My teeth are like my best feature lol… Hubby however Ughhh…. I don’t want my daughter to have braces lol

  16. Krystal

    Braces were terrible for me. I didn’t have a good experience, and my teeth are crooked. Ack! I am not self conscious about it, but I do think about my teeth far more than I should!
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  17. Dan

    You mention in the post that we live in a society where appearances are important, and even more so for women who face pressure from all angles when it comes to looks. Men face less pressure than women, but given that most women still want a handsome husband the pressure is non-zero. The idea of getting braces is related to our ideas in the western world about class, status, and the role appearance plays in achieving success at home and at work. There’s no doubt that being attractive is an advantage in society, and it’s this tendency of humans to value attractiveness (and more deeply, the 3 deadly sins of ego, pride and vanity) that drive the entire cosmetic braces industry (and cosmetic dentistry as a whole).

  18. Kenneth Gladman

    I think you bring up an interesting point. I remember when I was a kid I was pretty indifferent about my braces, but today I am grateful that my mom got them for me. I think the value of a confident smile is priceless.

  19. Dom McLaughlin

    really interesting post here, it’s hard trying to do what’s best for kids and keep them happy too. So glad to hear you’re having the conversation though, and sharing the info on here for others, hope you find a solution you’re both happy with 🙂

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