Looking at this slightly damaged photo, I cannot remember that day at all –or even the place. It would have been a school play at either late kindergarten or early elementary school. I picked it for today’s Memory Monday for a different reason, however.
My smile here, admittedly, is a little dumb-looking. Keeping my lips together, it shows a hint of my teeth in the corners. It’s not a very cute smile. The thing is, at that time, I didn’t know that. So it’s a completely confident and happy smile, with no worries about how it looks. And even as I had less reasons to smile as I grew into a more taciturn and worried child, I still smiled without any self-consciousness until I was maybe ten years old.
One day, long after the taking of this photo (maybe five or six years later) my mom was taking a different photo of me, and, I’m sure trying to help me have a better picture, she said something to the effect of “smile properly, you look dumb like that”.
It’s one of those moments that stay seared in your mind forever. I remember the thoughts rushing one after the other in my ever-anxious young mind: “How is it possible to smile “wrong”? I’ve always smiled like this. Have I always smiled the wrong way? How does one even do that? Who else noticed that I look dumb when I smile? Why didn’t my mom tell me sooner that my smile looks dumb?”
I remember the picture being taken as I felt as if I’d swallowed a rock —and I still had to smile for it, somehow. I remember my voice, helplessly choking out “I don’t know what you mean, I don’t know how to smile any differently.” I’m sure my mom forgot about this comment in less than a minute; it was without any malice, but I was a very sensitive child.
Eventually I’d learn how to smile “properly”, which meant not keeping my lips pressed together. Still, the self-consciousness never did go away. I think about it every time I take a photo, even selfies, and I’ve become self-conscious of other things now, like my gums showing too much.
In reality, I don’t think my genuine childhood smile is ugly. I wish I could have been given this tip in a gentler way —my mom meant well, and was trying to help me, and was frustrated, I imagine. A lot of years of my childhood were spent in a state of constant stress for my mom. She probably doesn’t even remember saying such a thing.
I think a bunch of my Memory Mondays have grim or kinda sad memories, but I’m writing them from a happy, contemplative place, so I hope they aren’t depressing. 😅 I don’t think this small snapshot of my childhood is anything special, most people have moments like these, right? I still like revisiting them.