Real Life

‘We love our Ugly Betty smiles’

on the hit TV2 show Ugly Betty, actress America Ferrera wins hearts with her endearing charm – despite her mouthful of gleaming braces. The show may suggest that braces make you less attractive but, nowadays, lots of adult women are paying thousands of dollars to have their smiles straight.

Here, four brace-wearing women talk candidly about why being an “Ugly Betty” makes them smile.

Janelle Hemopo (22) is a sewing machinist who lives in Pahiatua. The metal braces she has worn for the past eight months have given her a new self-confidence and winning smile.

“I shamefully admit I sucked my thumb on and off until I was 18 years old. It started as a comfort thing and developed into a habit I tried desperately to shake. I was extremely self-conscious of my crooked teeth and overbite. I never smiled and if I had to laugh, I placed my hand over my mouth to hide my awful teeth. The kicker came when my sister got married and I ruined her wedding photos because I didn’t smile in any of them.

“oy family and friends got used to me declaring I wanted braces at every Christmas and birthday celebration. The issue was, I could never afford them. It wasn’t until my partner Andre told me to get braces no matter what the cost that I made my mind up to go for it.

“oy first appointment was on 26 oay last year. The orthodontist took moulds, x-rays and photographs of my mouth and teeth. I choose metal braces because I couldn’t afford the clear ones. Paying off the $4900 bill in weekly lots isn’t easy on my wage, so I had to stick to a budget limit.

“The first few weeks with my new metal braces were pretty sore and eating became a new challenge. I was embarrassed when I first had the braces put on because my teeth were so bad, I had to have springs, wires and different attachments.

“But now that I can see the results, I’m stoked. I love braces so much, I talk to people about them all the time. I had to boost my confidence and the $45 weekly bill is worth it. I smile a hundred times more with my braces than I did beforehand. The TV show Ugly Betty couldn’t have come at a better time because she’s helping make braces look cute. My cousin has only recently come back from Australia and said heaps of young girls are going out and getting braces because it’s the new fashion accessory thanks to Ugly Betty.

“I thought my teeth were so bad that there was no going back. But now my partner and I are planning to wed next year and I’ll have beautiful straight teeth. You won’t catch me wrecking this lot of wedding photos!”

Jayde Baker (19) is a dental assistant and lives in west Auckland. She chose to get braces to improve her look and loves to dress them up with colourful fashion bands.

“Like everyone who gets braces, I was unhappy with how my teeth looked. My friends had straight teeth but mine were crooked and really stood out in photographs. I tried to smile before I got braces but I always thought, ‘oy teeth are crooked and they have wrecked this photo.’ I had a cheesy grin until I realised how ‘yuck’ my teeth looked.

“Thanks to my mum, who paid the $1000 deposit, I got braces in February last year. They cost a whopping $7000, which I am paying off slowly but it’s a big commitment on my salary. I have clear braces on my four top front teeth and metal braces everywhere else. I prefer the metal ones because they are smaller, more comfortable and I can play them up using colour bands.

“oy friends thought it was odd someone my age had decided to get braces. They thought people got braces in their early teens. At first, I really worried that it looked like my mouth was full of shrapnel. Now, I forget they are there and have stopped feeling self-conscious. My boyfriend, Richard, doesn’t even notice them. Braces are slowly turning into a fashion must-have and I think Ugly Betty has played a part in that. Thanks to the show, my friends’ attitudes toward braces have changed, and mine has too. Betty has made braces kind of cool.”

Karina Young (20) of Whangarei is a personal assistant/receptionist at a travel agency. From the age of 14 she wanted braces to correct her crooked teeth.

“I blame sucking my thumb for the damage to my teeth. At 14, I went to an orthodontist who gave me a plate, but it ended up pushing my two front teeth over the top of each other. By 17, I was desperate for nice, straight teeth. I got braces a week before my 18th birthday thanks to my parents who forked out thousands.

“For the first two weeks, my braces hurt. I got headaches because my whole mouth was sore and it was very hard to eat. But I have grown used to having the tension on my teeth. The only time my mouth hurts now is once a month when I have the braces tightened.

“I haven’t let the braces stop me partying, but some people’s attitudes astound me. I’ve met people who think braces are strange at my age. Unlike the others, I think Ugly Betty contradicts itself. on one hand, it shows Betty as a geek who doesn’t fit in but is learning that being different is okay. But on the other hand, the show has gone for the old-fashioned stereotype that a geek has to have braces, thick glasses and asthma. The show is funny but I don’t know if it’s helping to change the braces stereotype.”

Sue Chard (47) of Palmerston North owns and runs a hairdressing academy. She chose to get braces in her early 40s and has worn them with pride for nearly three years.

“I was never self-conscious about my teeth, maybe because I’m older and feel confident within myself. I got braces after four teeth started causing me trouble. When my dentist and I started talking about all the work that needed to be done, he asked whether I would like straighter teeth too. Before I knew it, I was having four teeth taken out and back teeth pulled forward with braces. I chose metal braces because they are slightly stronger than the clear ones and I liked that I could use colourful rubber bands to jazz them up.

“When I first got braces, it was horrific – I couldn’t chew and it was two weeks until I could eat anything solid. The braces cost $5500 but it’s been great because I’ve had an awesome result. one tooth had to move 10mm and my gaps have already closed up.

“I love watching Ugly Betty but I think the stereotype around braces has worn off. About 80% of my children’s friends have had braces and I hear them asking others, ‘What sort of braces have you got?’ and, ‘Let me see your coloured bands.’ I think braces can give people new-found confidence and frankly, you can’t put a price on that.”

As told to Rebecca Milne

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