Every year in grade school, we used to take school portraits… you know, for the school yearbook and so your parents can have 64 wallet size copies of your face. I used to hate it because my mom would dress me up in these weird outfits. Well, not weird… they just weren’t the button down and clip on tie with slacks that all my white friends were wearing (I went to a mostly white Catholic school). My mom put me in a bow tie, suspenders, shirts with little oddball Korean doodads on it, bla bla bla… Maybe I just didn’t rock them well. Anyone can look good in anything as long as they accessorize it with a little confidence, knowhatimsayin’? How the hell is a six year old supposed to know that though. And what kid likes to be different in elementary school? I won’t even get into bringing in kimbop/California rolls for lunch one day! My friends acted like I was eating cooties or something. Circle circle, dot dot!
But back to school portraits. Not back-to-school portraits but back to… well, you know what I’m saying. Anyways, every year, my mom would end up saying the same thing right before I jumped on the school bus that morning: “Eeb dah muhl guh sah jin jee guh! Yuhl sheem mee gong boo ha goo!!!!!! Hah-bud, Hah-bud!” (Or something like that… my Korean is pretty not good). Translated roughly to: Don’t smile with your mouth open! And you better get a 100 on your spelling test or you’re never going to get into Harvard!!!!!”
My mom… ever the planner and motivational speaker.
I think my mom had a point though. I didn’t have a nice smile. Well, when I smiled with my mouth closed it was fine, but when I smiled with my mouth open, my top teeth wouldn’t necessarily show. It was just my top gums. Some might think that was cute (you know, considering its their son and all and I’m like, six years old), but my mom flat out just said it looked ugly.
So I stopped smiling in portraits altogether. Which was fine; it wasn’t that big of a deal until I got to college. See, I didn’t have any Asian friends until college, so when I didn’t smile in my pictures, it wasn’t because I was trying to look cool. I was just trying not to look ugly. And then I meet all these Asian kids in college and none of the guys smile in their pictures either. So I was like, I wonder if their moms all said their smiles were ugly when they were kids too, and that’s why they don’t smile. But then I found out that Asian kids don’t smile in photos in order to look tough. Even the Christian ones. Who knew? I gotta start smiling more often, I told myself.
And then I think one day, a girl I had a crush on said she really liked my smile. Which was total bullshit, I thought. But I ran with it, because let’s face it, when you have a crush on a girl and she says something nice about you, you milk that until the cows come home. If she said I would’ve looked cute in a moustache, I’d still be rocking one right now probably.
So I went back to my dormroom and worked on my smile for probably the rest of the week, sitting in front of the mirror wondering if my gums still show in my smile. (Why am I telling this story???) Anyways, parents, don’t tell your kids their smiles are ugly. They’ll end up spending their Friday nights in college smiling at themselves in the mirror. People might think you’re crazy if they catch you. Not that anyone caught me doing that. Err…
It wasn’t until a few years later when I was leaving my first job for a new company when at my little going away office party, one of the secretaries was like “I’m going to miss your smile. You’re always smiling when you say hi and it always makes my day brighter.” If she wasn’t pushing 65 I would’ve thought she was hitting on me. But it was then that I noticed that somewhere down the line from college up to that point, I ended up being a smiler.
I was shooting a wedding a couple years ago and one of the floral vendors came up to me and was like “Hey, I’m ___. You seem like the more fun photographer since you’re always smiling. Here’s my card.” If the vendor wasn’t a dude, I would’ve thought the vendor was hitting on me. But yeah, I think smiling goes a long way.
Even underground on the subways, where you’re never really ever supposed to make eye contact with anyone (I mean, it’s more polite to cower and breathe over someone’s shoulder to read their New York Times than it is to make eye contact! “Wait don’t turn the page, I wasn’t done!”). When I would accidentally make eye contact with someone, I would dart my eyes away to the nearest Dr. Zizmore skin therapy ad. But I’ve actually forced myself to instead of looking away like some creep, to just smile and maybe do the eyebrow raise that signals “Hey, yeah, I smell that too.” When a cute girl smiles back, it actually feels really good. Like I feel like I’m not ugly. Maybe one day I’ll have the guts to approach one of them. Ha.
I think everyone’s a little less ugly when they smile. Okay, maybe that’s not the best way to put it. But you get the point. Which is, just smile… with your mouth open, your mouth closed… whatever you like.