As a woman who is not yet dead, I have studied the latest youth-enhancing products and have even been to a dermatologist — as well as a witch, a voodoo priestess and an exterminator — to get this dreadful thing called “aging” out of my body. And I have an important, medical-ish finding to share: The problem with being old — which is to say, over 25 if you are a woman and over 75 if you are a man — and trying to look younger is that old people have a skewed vision of what youth actually looks like. Yes, young people have more collagen in their faces than old people do, but just shooting collagen, Gatorade or even packing peanuts into your old-ass face isn’t going to make you look any younger. What is going to make you look younger is imitating the way real, live young people look, which, if you haven’t noticed lately, is: awkward, uncomfortable and pissed off.
This is where the most unsung, but effective, anti-aging product comes into play: braces. Now, if you are like me, you never considered getting braces as an old person, because you already had them when you were young. But this is exactly why you should be getting braces. Because, let’s face it, if you had braces back when you were a teen, you can damn well see that your teeth aren’t straight anymore. Of course they’re not, because braces don’t work.
I mean, braces do work, just not for as long as it takes to get old. They work long enough to get you through your hookup years, and then, in a pattern you may be familiar with, your teeth become like a close-knit cohort who graduated from a fine, upstanding university before going their separate ways to become a loose-knit crew of scraggly ne’er-do-wells.
But you don’t need braces just to get the old gang back together — that is, to straighten up your couch-surfing, uninsured, unemployed teeth. There’s also this: When you stand in front of the mirror and apply anti-aging crud to your body, the message you are sending to your very own self is: Poor me, I’m old. Given the unpopular but nevertheless true fact that no one really cares what you look like because they’re thinking only about themselves, the person you really need to gussy up for every day is you. And there is no better way to tell yourself that you’re just getting started, and you have a lot of life left, than painstakingly stretching teeny-tiny rubber bands across two or even three metal hooks in your mouth and spending the day feeling like a marionette anytime you say anything, even if it’s just “LOL.”
But that’s not all. Unlike privately applying sad, self-defeating face creams or undergoing creepy surgeries that you recover from in your secret, old-person lair, braces force you to face the world with integrity. Because braces are basically like getting a facelift and inviting every person you talk to into the operating room. Braces are the embodiment of what anti-aging creams purport to offer you, but don’t. Braces do not hide who they are; braces are not ashamed. Braces confront the world with egg sandwich under their wires and say: I am worthy of unsightly scaffolding.
And sure, I know that there are now “invisible” braces. Believe me, I know all about those and how “invisible” they are. Listen, the manufactures of such braces should be aware that they are marketing to experts, because no one knows invisibility like us over-25 hags. And this is why we can look at this purported advancement in orthodontics and see right through it. Because when you wear two clear plastic trays over your upper and lower teeth, you are not making your teeth’s realignment undetectable so much as adorning yourself with a speech impediment. And though your newly acquired lisp may indeed be hard to see, it will also make you feel like a toddler, and that is not the stage of youth many of us are interested in recapturing.
Leaving invisibility behind, then, we can surely agree that perhaps the greatest thing about braces is that they don’t just apply pressure on your wayward teeth: They actually pressure you to be a better person because they make you look, and feel, like something is wrong; something is off. And from my very unscientific observation of young people, this is how many of them feel right now. Why? Well, perhaps they are thinking about — oh, I don’t know, the latest action adventure movie. Or maybe they’re spending even 10 seconds contemplating their futures, and the fact that what was supposed to be a clear and cloudless horizon now seems cluttered with school shootings, climate change and college loan debts.
Having braces, then, is like finding the fountain of youth because it turns you into a young person on the inside. Sure, you may feel misunderstood and looked down upon. You may feel as if you are fighting uphill battles. But this is what it means to be young today. Now, maybe in a few decades — if we’re still here, that is — being young will have completely changed, and it will feel more like getting a massage all day long knowing that racial and gender equity are facts of life. I look forward to that! But until then, go ahead and get old and forget everything. I mean, stay the same age forever and forget retinol. All you need to remember is: braces.
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