I hate that expression, namely because usually the people that throw it around with reckless gay abandon, chuckling and rolling their eyes as they do, were the very kids propagating the cruelty. I find that those that were on the receiving end tend to keep their mouths shut, pushing their unpleasant memories into an untapped pocket of their mind where it can all fester quietly as a mental illness.
Still. Kids can be horrendous creatures, and it only takes one knuckle-dragging child to come up with an insulting nickname that’ll plague you for the rest of your days. Something the rest of the drones will latch on to and throw like spears in a bid to avoid their own persecution. Child psychology 101.
The problem is, once you’ve grown up and gotten your shit together, and have long since revelled in seeing the offenders clocking off at McDonald’s, or waddling down the high street with a farm of children nipping at their heels, that nickname still scratches around the corners of your consciousness. It embeds itself in your psyche, and becomes a quiet part of your identity.
Even if you no longer demonstrate attributes of the name, the name was once responsible for the shape of your entire world. Despite the ‘love yourself!’ rhetoric that dominates much of the conversation we’re party to nowadays, where self-acceptance and self-assurance are the ultimate goals, your heart will still miss a beat when you hear the name mentioned (entirely out of context, of course), or are in on any kind of discussion revolving around features linked to the name. Like it or not, that bloody name is an albatross around your neck no matter how many inspirational ‘U R so unique’ quotes you read on Tumblr.
Which is partly why, at the age of 28, I’m getting braces.
I had braces when I was 15 in a bid to counteract the attributes of the name which had long before been bestowed unto me. The requisite train track types that marked a rite of passage for the dentally disadvantaged teenager, but were liable to rip open the inside of your cheeks and drive pieces of errant metal wire into your gums every time you attempted an apple or a Mars Bar. But so desperate was I to be rid of them, and the name, that the retainer given to me by the orthodontist once they’d come off was gleefully flung into a drawer and quickly forgotten about. It was only a few weeks afterwards that I tried to put it back on and realised that my teeth had already moved too far to do so. Good work, teenage me.
So the name stuck, and I have been hugely paranoid about my teeth ever since, especially since they have now shifted quite significantly back into their original, overcrowded position.
The few people I’ve spoken to about this have of course assured me that my teeth are fine. And I know they’re not that bad, really. But this has nothing to do with emulating magazine-standard beauty or aspirational living, it’s because every time I look in the mirror, see a photograph of myself smiling awkwardly, or even see my erratic, jumbled bite mark in a piece of fruit, the name reverberates around my skull like a trapped bird, along with all the anxiety, paranoia and nervousness associated with it. So I’m taking charge of the name by banishing it for good.
The irony is that I’ve spent all of my adult life trying to hide my teeth, and now I’m drawing attention to them in the most overt way possible: “I’m an adult with braces! I’m unhappy with my teeth! Look at them!” It’s something that makes me feel quite sick and uneasy, but if I don’t do this now, then when? I definitely don’t want to make it to old age and look back at photos of milestone moments and think ‘Fuck, I wish I’d just gotten it over with’.
So after nearly eight years of saving (son, this shit is expensive and I’m a freelancer), I’m off to purposefully regress into my teenage self, and exorcise her of the demons of the name.
Just gonna get my fill of apples and Mars Bars first.