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.

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?


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?

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