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Smiling Through Imperfection

What I am about to share is something that I have shared with many people over the years, but never publicly. I have never thought to write about it, but God just did. It’s about a nonsensical struggle I have had since I was a teenager. Ya ready for it?

I hate my teeth and smile. That’s it. I feel silly even writing this because the reality is that every human on this planet has something about their body that they don’t like. I am sure someone reading this thought, “Join the club. I don’t like fill in the blank.”

I was triggered by a video that my sister sent me recently. It was of a beautiful young mom who was sharing the way her mind tracked as she jumped from thing to thing in the house that had to get done. It was cute and funny. Thanks to my online business education, I knew immediately that it was pre-planned.

Most people would move on after seeing that video and not think much about it, but I wanted to know what this woman was really up to so I did some digging. I had guessed when I saw her video that she had an online business and I was right. I liked what she and her husband were doing (

This tension, however was forming inside as I processed this beautiful woman’s content. I was supposed to be continuing a writing that I had been working on for days, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to anymore. I had a new thing I had to write about first.

The tension that I had been feeling was over this woman's appearance. More specifically, her radiant smile. Her perfectly white, straight, gapless, and gum free smile. In America, we would say that she has “perfect teeth.” That’s how I will refer to them in this writing.

There is a common feature that I have noticed in the successful people on the internet or on TV in westernized countries. They have nearly perfect teeth. I’m pretty sure that it’s practically a requirement to have them in the music and media industry.

I honestly don’t know if most people with those perfect teeth think about it. It’s very likely that they were one of the 80% of teenagers that got braces. To top it off, It’s very likely that their parents paid for those perfect teeth without so much as a thank you for spending 6k on their mouths on top of everything else that was sacrificed for them. I digress.

When I was a teenager, I asked my dentist about needing braces to close my gap. She told me that they weren’t necessary. That it would strictly be for vanity purposes. My teeth were perfectly straight. I knew money was tight for my parents so I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to get braces for me just so I would feel better about my smile.

In addition to a gap between my two front teeth, my teeth are small. A family member said to me recently, “your teeth are like the size of a child’s! I never noticed that before!” I am not sure how big this 100 pound, 5 foot 2inch, small framed woman’s teeth should be, but this family member only confirmed what I already had seen in myself for the last twenty years.

When I smile, a lot of my gums show. I have learned that this is apparently more common in women. Since noticing that in other people, I have grown to accept that part of my smile more, but I am still not a fan of mine.

At eighteen years of age, I went on a missions trip in Costa Rica. At the end of the trip, we had a free day where we were able to go to the beach. While swimming underwater, an undertow caught me, flipped me upside down, and slammed my head onto the bottom of the ocean. This put a chip in my front tooth.

After I returned from that trip, I went to that same dentist who sanded it down for me at no cost. Now the chip was gone, but instead I was left with two front teeth at different lengths. I don’t know why I didn’t ask her to do the other side, too so that they would be even. She must not have thought it was necessary.

The hatred that I have of my teeth comes in waves. Sometimes I think about how dumb my mouth looks when I am talking to people. I’ll catch myself watching them to see if they are looking at my mouth as I talk wondering if they are looking at how ugly my teeth are. Other times, I completely forget about them.

The reality is that, even though I often feel hatred towards my teeth, I can’t help but smile. I will intentionally look strangers straight in the eyes and smile at them because I want them to know they are seen and loved. I smile a ton on stage for the exact same reason. I will still smile in photos.

In every video and photo taken of myself, the very first thing I look at is my mouth. My teeth have been one of my greatest apprehensions to doing video recordings. I don’t want someone to stare at my teeth that closely. It’s why I prefer to keep myself zoomed out if they are showing.

My smile used to affect my singing. I was constantly told to open my mouth more. I would apologize in response and confess that I hated my teeth. Eventually, I resolved that I cared more about how I sounded than I looked. God had gifted me in singing and it was foolish of me to change how I sang because of my teeth.

I can’t remember how many times I have talked with Ralph about wanting to get braces in the last 20 years we’ve been together. He doesn’t want me to get them. When we were dating, he told me that he thought my gap was cute.

Like every one of my writings, I shared this with Ralph first. I was a bit concerned that he might be annoyed about my topic of (God’s) choice. I asked him what he thought. After initially saying, "it's well thought out," he added,

"I love you and I love your smile. It doesn’t surprise me that you wrote about this because you have to write everything out.”

Thank you, my simple man, for your simple and honest words. That’s one of the many reasons for why I love you. Still, I struggle with this. 

Ralph knows that if I could justify the expense, and he was on board, that I would fix my teeth in a heartbeat. If you were to ask him, “what’s the one thing Courtney would spend money on if nothing else mattered? If there was no other need?” It would be that.

It actually realllllly annoys me that it still surfaces. I am a grown woman. This is a first world problem. I know that I am being vain, but I am a visual person, hence my profession in photography. I simply don’t like what I see when I look at my smile.

That’s exactly why I had to write about it. After I saw that woman’s perfect smile and felt that inner turmoil about mine, the Holy Spirit was like, “OK sweetheart, it’s time to take the time to address this struggle. I know you planned on writing about something else tonight, but this one is more important.”

When I write, it changes me. It puts damaging thought patterns, like the ones I have had for years about my smile, on paper. If I see the words, I can process my struggles better. I can receive what the Holy Spirit is saying to me more easily as I write.

As embarrassing as it is for me to share this, I have to release it into the world because then God can use it to accomplish His purposes. It becomes less about me and more about Him. I must take what the enemy meant for evil and let my sweet Savior turn it for good.

Multiple times, I have been close to consulting orthodontists about fixing them, but I have never gone anywhere to find out what I could actually do. I don't even know if much can be done to change it. I always end up being convinced not to change them by Ralph. Or, I decide that it is not a justifiable expense in my eyes.

I realize I am about to go on a bit of a tangent, but remember, I’m processing over here. I am all about natural beauty, but I don’t know if there really is anyone who is fully natural in westernized countries. Every woman, and even men, enhance themselves, whether it be through ear piercings, makeup, surgeries, shaving, dying hair, skin products, and much more.

Even Esther in The Bible went through a beautifying process before the king could see her and the other queen prospects. There has been jewelry, skin products, and makeup since the dawn of time. I think if they could’ve fixed teeth then, they would’ve done that, too.

I am not against a person doing things that make them feel more attractive, but I do believe it can be a slippery slope. Modern technologies have changed what enhancements can be done to improve a person’s appearance. It goes without saying that we have a whole lot of confused, insecure, but beautiful people as a result of that.

What I will touch on briefly is that there is an obsession in westernized countries with appearance of ones self and others. The enemy has been very successful in feeding lies to the human minds which already naturally gravitate to thinking about themselves. We believe the lies that we are ugly, the creator screwed up in how we were made, or that we won’t be loved until we look a certain way. That’s why I struggle with the desire that I have to change my smile.

Being a professional photographer for 18 years, I have seen a lot of different smiles. Honestly, I love the uniqueness of everyone’s smile and all of the ways it compliments them, including their eyes. In every one of my sessions, I will not stop shooting until I can capture someone’s genuine smile because there is nothing like it. I think people are so beautifully crafted by their maker.

On one hand, I can say that to not like my smile is to say that I don’t like how God made me. On the other hand, I ask myself, “does that mean that I can’t change ANYTHING about me?” Does God ultimately even care about this kind of stuff anyway? Again, this just feels like first world problems.

At what point am I to say and believe in regards to every part of my body, “God I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made?” I memorized Psalm 139 eight years ago after I was abruptly removed from something that I was involved in that I loved so much. I often recite it out loud as a prayer when I struggle with things about myself.

I have cried many times as I have reached verse 14 of that Psalm. Why? Because when I say, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” I am having to surrender all that I am to God and it’s hard. I am having to say, “God you made me this way for a purpose.” In this case, it’s, “God, you made my teeth this way for a purpose.”

Does that mean that I can’t change anything that I don’t like? I don’t think so. God wants us to examine our motives. To ask him to search us and know our hearts. For him to test us and know our anxious thoughts. To see if there is any offensive way in us and to lead us in the way everlasting (verses 23+24 of Psalm 139). That’s what I am trying to do with this silly, vain, smile dilemma.

An overwhelming part of me says that by changing my smile, I would be bending to the culture that says that a beautiful smile is one that has white, closed, straight teeth. I just don’t see many people with my kind of smile. This same side of me wants to keep my teeth just the way they are to show that beauty does not just come from perfect smiles. That you can still be beautiful with a smile like mine.

I realize that by writing and posting about this, I am actually causing more people to look at my least favorite part of my body. That goes back to the whole uniqueness about me. I have to share this because I know that I am not the only one who struggles with this. Less of me, more of Jesus.

I can’t say what I would do if I had the money to justify “fixing my teeth.” This writing might be just what I needed to make peace with it all. Or perhaps it is just another wave from the enemy that came through to try to stop me from publicly sharing photos, videos, podcasts, etc. He knows my weaknesses.

I don’t look like most everyone I see with their perfect smiles. I don’t bend to what the culture says either. I am a threat to Satan's plan to steal, kill, and destroy every human possible.

Sometimes I wish there were more people out there in the public eye with spaces in their teeth. I suppose I wouldn’t feel so alone in it. Perhaps that’s why God has prompted me to address this in the first place. Maybe I am to be a trailblazer in this area. I’ve never cared to be like everyone else anyway so why should my smile be like 80% of the American population, too?

Fixing my teeth does not help me function better or make me any healthier. It just makes me feel better about myself. And feelings are feelings. They come and go. Some return over and over again to taunt you just like my feelings of disgust towards my smile that surfaced when I saw that beautiful Godly woman. 

There will always be something about myself to taunt me (especially as I get older!). There will always be feelings that I will have to address, take captive, and lay at the feet of Jesus. And so, once again, that is where I lay my emotions about my teeth.

Will I change my teeth in the future? I still want to. Right now, I can’t justify changing them just like I haven’t been able to for the past twenty years. And my husband….you know.

Here’s what I know: I am fearfully and wonderfully made regardless of whether any part of my teeth are ever changed. My husband thinks I am cute with my teeth the way they are, but he also hasn’t seen them any other way either. Most importantly, my sweet Jesus doesn’t care whether my teeth are straight, missing, or yellow. I am still beautiful and precious in His sight.

God has placed me on this earth at this time in history in Orlando, Florida and not in a third world country like Sierra Leone, Africa for a purpose. He wants me to model Jesus to a dark and depraved world and to steward whatever He has given me wisely. I pray that I do all of it for His glory, including sharing my silly first world vanity problem with my teeth. Amen and Amen.

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