A year or two ago, someone in one of my writing groups told me she didn’t like to smile too much because of the gap between her front teeth. I pointed out that some extremely attractive celebrities have imperfect teeth, such as Anthony Mackie…
and Tom Hardy.
I understood how she felt, though. When I was growing up, my parents didn’t have enough money for braces, either. My bottom teeth are crooked, and I have an overbite, so my top teeth jut out. All through high school and college, I tried to do the tight, closed-mouth smile, especially in photos. Sometimes I would forgo the smile altogether and just try to look smart and interesting (similar to the expression of my dog Clio in the first photo there.)
When I got engaged to Mr. Donovan after three weeks of dating, he started taking lots of pictures of me. He never really stopped. Seriously, I am photographed more than Kim Kardashian and Kate Middleton combined. I started noticing that the pictures of me with a huge smile always looked better.
Now I smile basically all the time. It comes naturally to me, although I tried to suppress it before. I may have a malocclusion (a charming word I learned from my dentist), lower teeth as crooked as insider traders, and small eyes that practically disappear when I smile big, but I’ll tell you what: my whole face lights up, and nobody can resist. That’s not bragging on my part. All genuine smiles are that way.
It’s awful to be afraid to smile, because smiles can do so much. The can put other people at ease, or make them feel happier. They can actually make you feel happier.
(This doesn’t mean, by the way, that it’s okay for men to order women to smile. Men who say they’re “just being friendly” by doing this should, logically, say it just as often to random men on the street–and if they do, they should get it on video, because I would love to see that. Like so many other good things, smiles shouldn’t be coerced.)
Although I learned to embrace my smile long ago, I still hated my voice. I think most people do. We cringe when we hear a recording of ourselves. God. Do I really sound like that?
I have a high, girlish voice, and I sound a little dreamy when I talk. It’s the kind of voice that gets made fun of a lot. A ‘cool’ woman’s voice is lower. I have a little bit of a rural twang that becomes more pronounced when I’m sleepy. Some people like to mimic a rural or Southern accent when mocking people they think are stupider than themselves (“Murrica!”)
I never saw any benefit of a high-pitched voice until I discovered ASMR videos. They reminded me that voices not so different from my own could sometimes trigger a physiological response that alleviated anxiety and made me feel dramatically better. I’ve just started writing book 2 of my paranormal trilogy, and the heroine understands the power of her high, gentle voice.
Still, I derided the way I talk, often saying that I sounded like a 12-year-old girl from Kentucky who just smoked a bunch of weed. Not too long ago, one of my online friends who had met me in real life took exception to this description: “No way! Bryn’s voice is like smoked honey, if that’s a thing.” Another woman in the group who had also met me chimed in: “That’s it!”
I told them they were out of their minds.
Have you ever gotten a specific, beautiful compliment that transformed your thinking? Smoked honey. Here is the power of an arresting word choice, even if you suspect it is wildly inaccurate. Suddenly, when I talked, I felt like I wasn’t terrible to listen to. I didn’t feel like I should talk faster, or just shut up, in order to spare everyone.
I’ve been working with a few other wonderful people on a video based on a poem I wrote. The first recording of me reading the poem was rushed and not very good. I planned to recruit a friend of mine who does a lot of voice work to read the poem instead. But after I got this compliment about my voice, I re-recorded the poem. It was absolutely not perfect, but it was so much better.
None of us should feel like our voice is a problem. We don’t have to sound like news anchors or professional actors. We sound fine. Our voice is perfect for expressing our particular ideas and feelings.
Your attitude toward your voice and your smile are so intrinsic to how you feel about yourself and about life. Go ahead and love them. Nobody can stop you.