At 48 years old I walk into my parent's house and I am greeted and reminded by my 3rd grade school photo. The third grade photo follows me into the home and I reminisce about my dissatisfaction of who I was at that time in my life. The joy and pride that photo brings my mother brought me an equal amount of shame. The head shot reminds me of that skinny little girl with large lips and teeth to match. My mouth was a focal point to my small frame and it was apparent that I did not know how to control the size of my new grown up teeth. My full plush lips and large white teeth did not get the memo that they were placed on a little girl's face. I lacked self esteem, and I was mocked as a child from friends and family. When they mimicked me and pushed their teeth forward bucking them out and forced their lips out in full pucker, they unknowingly created a mirror of a distorted image that I believed was me. I learned to smile and talk less to avoid the ridicule. Years went by and the ridicule minimized which I perceived was my ability to hide my flaw by not creating attention to that part of my body. I was in the mall one day as a teenager and the clerk rang up my purchase and with a subconscious smile I thanked her for her help. This woman did not know my history or thoughts and she said, "you have such a beautiful smile, I love your lips." I looked around to make sure that comment was directed toward me and then to confirm she was not being sarcastic, but I was the only one in line, uncomfortably I said "thank you?" and scurried away with my bag.
After I got my driver's license I took a picture that received continuous compliments for my smile, I surprised myself that I smiled in the photo but I guess I was so happy to get my license I could not contain it. I thought it was a fluke that the DMV captured a flattering picture. In my mind I personified the representation of what others perceived I looked like at nine years old. I always wish I could have taken that photo from my license and replace it with my 3rd grade photo on my mother's wall. Through the years I received compliments on my mouth and commentary on how lucky I was to have a great drivers license photo. When the compliments about my mouth became separate from the driver's license photo I had to question what it was that they saw? One day I looked deep in the mirror to find it. I smiled and initially all I could see from a then 19 year old face was a 9 year old smiling back. But then I smiled again and my teeth did not appear as large and my lips did not seem so big. My features seemed to have caught up with my current frame. My teeth appeared bright and full no longer big and overbearing, and my lips that seemed oversized were plump and vivacious. My biggest flaw became my greatest perfection and that day I whole heartedly liked my lips not because of others perception but my own reality. The size of my mouth never changed but my mind did. When I enter my parent's home and see that 3rd grade photo my heart is filled with joy and I smile for who I was then and who I am now.