In the Blog

A whiter, brighter smile

March 7th, 2008     by Elle E.     Comments

Apologies to Ellen Page if this costs her a shot at spokeswoman for Minty-White International, but in her pre-Oscar interview with Barbara Walters it was clear that she had not succumbed to bleaching her smile. Her teeth looked good - healthy, normal - but also kind of weird for TV. The person I was with (who does not obsess over teeth as much as I do) actually pointed it out first.

We’re so used to seeing bleached teeth on screen that regular ones stand out like a wad of spinach. If you find yourself with the kind of free time necessary to start watching for this, you’ll see what I mean.

This awareness freaks me out. Usually I’m upset about corporate-sponsored social norms that started long before I was born. I can see this this one happening in real time. The whole normalization of stark white teeth is fostered as I live and brush.

Sure, teeth are a big part of a friendly smile (or vicious growl), but their primary function is for biting into crispy apples and possibly opening up cellophane packages. Strength and resilience matters; exact hue is irrelevant. But on on screen - from the smallest bit part in a commercial to the leading actor - everyone with an agent has teeth bleached whiter than Mary’s little lamb.

And the pressure doesn’t just come from Hollywood. Last time I went to the dentist they finished off my appointment by asking me “if I had any cosmetic issues I wanted to discuss” and pointing to pamphlets about chemical bleaching. They used to give a closing lecture about flossing, which at most led to gum-disease anxiety. This time I felt like I was supposed to possess some kind of unearthly gleam.

When I catch myself feeling pressured by things like perfect hair on TV, I pull out a little reality check technique: I look at people in the actual world. This is a healthy way to reset expectations. On the subway, hardly anyone blinds me with their incisors. This is helpful.

The situation is particulary interesting to me because this new whitening standard still seems in flux. Sure most celebrities do it, but the average Jane still has the choice. But I wonder… in 20 years will tooth whitening be just one of those things that we just do without question?

Maybe nature will have the final say: Not long after the major companies launched whitening products, I noticed a flood of new pastes dedicated to “sensitivity protection.” Enamel might just win the day.

Tags: body politics, film fridays, in my opinion...

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