I rather like this photo of myself, taken after my round of the Funniest Person in Austin contest and currently posted on the www.capcity.com website. I seem to have finally reached an age where I?m happy with the way I look – at least in photos. Hair that does what I want, glasses that I like wearing and a smile I?m not embarrassed by. The smile is probably the most important to me, because it?s taken the longest. While there’s certainly some truth to the whole brits with bad-teeth stereotype – especially when compared to Americans – it?s not fair to say we don?t care. I hated my stained teeth. According to my mum, I was so sick as a baby that my tooth enamel didn?t form properly. The result was yellow staining, or discoloration as it would now politely be termed, on my front teeth. My parents apparently thought it unecessary to try to correct the problem, just as with my sticky out right ear. Pinning back the ear, whitening the teeth, good lord no, totally unthinkable. Such vanity.
For my first 11 or 12 years I grinned and bore it, ha, and it can’t have bothered me too much, there?s lots of family and school photos of me smiling away, largely oblivious to my disability. This stopped when I was about 13, thanks in part to Sharon Scutts. I was at a birthday party for some friends, Thomas and Emma Powell. They were a few years younger than Miles and me, but their grandmother was our babysitter and when you grow up in a village, you aren?t exactly overwhelmed with choices for friends. Sharon Scutts was also at the party. She’d be the British equivalent of trailer trash. Common parents with four yobby kids, all headed for prison – either as inmates or guards.
It wasn?t going to be a great party, they rarely are at that age, but the lure of sausages on sticks, twiglets and trifle was good enough. Plus, Mum had promised to take me to the hairdressers before the party. But not the one I wanted to go to. The new ?salon? in the village was the Bow Window. All modern and fresh, my best friend Karen had a perm there and loved it. The alternative, and the only option as far as my mum was concerned was her hairdressers, Maison Stella. Ah, a little French couture in the beautiful English village, you?re surely thinking. Actually no. Stella whose ?maison? it was, was far from french, stylish or normal. A more appropriate abode would have been ?La Loony Binette?. Short with a strangely fixed lip-only smile, Stella wore an extraordinarily bad Groucho Marx style wig – made worse by the fact that it sat lop-sided on her head. Maison Stella did not do perms, they did a ?wash and set? which, as I tried desperately to explain to my mother was not the same thing. Perfect if you?re over 50, not so great when you?re 13.
And so to Thomas and Em?s party where I walked in looking as though I had just swapped hair with Stella herself. ?Oh look at you, all grown up? said my mum. Well only in the sense that I?d gone from a child to a pensioner in just a few miserable hours. The hair perched on the top of my head, glued down with hairspray and hairpins. I couldn?t have felt more humiliated if they?d put a hairnet over the top. I knew people were talking about me. I overheard Thomas? mum say ?she looks like a little old lady? which was more than fair. But there was Sharon Scutts, openly laughing and telling people I had granny hair and green teeth. Green? I don?t know why, but the green part hurt me the most. I could almost accept yellow, there was surely some hope if you had yellow teeth, but green?
And that?s really all it took. Knowing she?d hit gold, or green, Sharon Scutts continued to tease me whenever she saw me. My well-meaning friends would tell her to shut up and try and get me to show my teeth, just to prove her wrong. Of course I never did. Instead I learned to perfect Stella?s closed-lip smile, practising in front of the mirror every day. But it wasn?t the same. My smile looked fake and sarcastic and I hated the way my fat bottom lip stuck out even more. In my graduation photo my mouth drips with sarcasm, ‘oh look at me, I’ve got a business diploma, isn’t that just so great’. At some point in my 20s I chipped my front tooth. I don?t know how I did it, but my lip-locked smile meant I didn?t really care. But then I met Erik. He was terribly sweet, saying he liked the chip, that it was one of those cute imperfections that we all have. Of course that was more than enough to get me to a new dentist. One that could erase the horrors of the Butcher of Lenham, MD, DDS. He fixed me up and our wedding photos are the better for it, though I still wince a little when I look at them. My smile is bigger but my teeth still look dull. Thank goodness for black and white film.
Finally, when I moved to Austin I found a dentist that I could trust. I had to, I was getting into acting and needed a headshot for commercial work. Apparently eyes and teeth are what they look for. Not much I could do about my bug eyes so … I, or rather Erik spent the equivalent of a years rent getting my wisdom teeth removed, new fillings, straightening and whitening. Was it worth it? Well my teeth aren?t Hollywood white, but they are normal tooth colored. They?re not perfectly straight, but only if you look really look at them. My grin is a little lopsided and my bottom lip still sticks out, but 25 years later, I?m very happy to smile.