Written by Holly Walsh

Lifestyle

Smile like you mean it

As a teen, Holly Walsh’s brace was “an oral chastity belt”. So why did she volunteer for another as an adult?

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

I never thought that I’d be the sort of person to have cosmetic surgery. If I’m honest, it’s one of those things I’m a bit ‘judgy’ about – like people who eat crisps for breakfast, and thumb rings.

Why would someone invest all that money, time and pain, just to correct a slight physical imperfection? I’m OK about the aging process, I thought. Who cares about my early onset wattle? Each pothole of cellulite is a mark of a good time!

And then, about two years ago, I was flossing my teeth (I do this about once a quarter – I’m not American) when I noticed my two front teeth had slightly overlapped. Over the next few months I’d study photos to check how noticeable my gnashers were. What had begun as a tiny wonk became a medium-sized complex.

Then one day my dentist suggested that maybe I could get a brace to correct my teeth. And in my stupid head, I thought, “Well, if my dentist has mentioned it, it’s technically an oral health issue. I’m just looking out for my gums.”

This was the logic I used to calm myself as I handed over my credit card. OK, it’s not strictly cosmetic surgery, but let’s be upfront, it’s still a ridiculous procedure in the name of vanity.

This wasn’t my first orthodontic rodeo. I was a childhood thumb sucker, resulting in both an incredible immune system (I didn’t wash my hands until I was 11) and a dental resemblance to Ken Dodd. At secondary school, my nickname was ‘Dinosaur Teeth’. I couldn’t physically shut my mouth. My top lip would stick to my desiccated ivories and I breathed like Darth Vader.

So, at the age of 14, I was summoned by the orthodontist to get fitted for a brace. I remember he did a lame joke about doing ‘impressions’ (cue: his best ‘Victor Meldrew’) and then making me bite into a giant pink blob of chalky putty (cue: my best ‘Marlon Brando’). And that’s how it began. For the next three years, I had every kind of hardware you can imagine. Train tracks, plates, elastic bands, barbed wire. For six months I walked around with a ‘Chelsea Smile’ from the wires of my overnight head brace.

“I was somewhat disappointed by how little my new teeth did for my general sexual magnetism. In fact, I was probably at my most magnetic with the metal head brace.”

I would say I had an excessive amount of metalwork. I suspect this was the result of a pact between my orthodontist and my parents, who obviously wanted me to remain a virgin. My brace was an oral chastity belt. I clung to the fact that once I ditched the metalwork, I’d be able to reveal myself as the beautiful swan I really was. A beautiful swan with a beak of immaculately straight human teeth. Which actually sounds quite a nightmarish image.

When I actually got my brace off the first thing I noticed was how slimy my teeth felt. But apart from the fact that I was now able to close my mouth for up to 45 seconds at a time, and that I could finally play my trumpet without spitting blood (OK. Yes. I was in a brass band. But that has absolutely nothing to do with why I was a virgin. Honestly!), I was somewhat disappointed by how little my new teeth did for my general sexual magnetism. In fact, I was probably at my most magnetic with the metal head brace.

But I didn’t regret doing it. For the first time in my life, I liked my smile. Throughout my 20s I thought no matter how good or bad I felt about the rest of my body, at least I had a smart set of teeth.

That is, until I got wisdom teeth. During my late 20s, these little pricks moved in unannounced, and played havoc with my hard-earned smile. I think this is why I panicked at the first sight of that tiny overlap. It represented the slippery slope back to my Ken Dodd-ian days. It’s not that weird being a grown-up with a brace. I’ve got another two months left, then it’s done. Don’t get me wrong – it’s gross and a faff, but by Christmas, I’ll have my straight teeth again.

And then, finally, I might be able to get off with some teenage boys.

@wiggywalsh

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Written by Holly Walsh

Holly Walsh is a standup comedian and writer, living in London. After eight years, her parents have just about come to terms with her career choice.