Orthodontia and the pursuit of correcting crooked choppers is big business here in the US and Western cultures. While certainly used for reasons other than aesthetics, the primary purpose for seeing an orthodontist is to correct a misaligned mouth.
Historically, a straight smile was a status symbol, implying that those bearing braces or corrective devices came from families of financial means. The actual word “orthodontia” comes from the Greek word orthos, meaning “straight” or “proper” or “perfect” and odus from “tooth.”
In Japan, dental beauty trends are quite different, where a popular look called Yaeba is desirable. Yaeba means “double tooth” in Japanese and describes a sort of “fang effect” where teeth are crowded to the point of pushing the incisors into a prominent display in the mouth. A multitude of dental “salons” in Japan offer cosmetic procedures by which dentists actually implant artificial teeth to induce overcrowding, forcing the incisors into a more prominent place in the mouth or adhering plastic covers to the tooth to lengthen and sharpen it.
This vampire look is cited as attractive and desirable and celebrated by Japanese culture. Celebrities showcase this look and women endure pricey procedures to achieve it. Creating these intentional imperfections is meant to make a woman appear more endearing and approachable.
Naturally, Yaeba occurs in young children and babies whose teeth have not fully developed and who have small mouths. While Western trends eschew overcrowding and aim for picket-fence, pearly whites, our society also idealizes youthfulness. These intentional imperfections are really the same beast dressed in a different outfit: a way to infantilize women and sexualize child-like appearances.
I think it is important to draw the parallel that focuses on infantilizing women, idealizing innocence, and pushing procedures that aim for a more youthful appearance, but I also believe there is a bigger, more basic issue at hand.
I also acknowledge that my own cultural context puts me at a disadvantage in terms of being able to objectively evaluate this trend. It is easy to magnify differences in cultural definitions of beauty. While I appreciate and am fascinated by the measures of attractiveness and standards of beauty in other countries, one thing remains glaringly obvious: Everywhere, women are in the business of changing our bodies and appearance to fit some ideal. This is a transnational epidemic.
Cosmetic procedures that aim to create Yaeba are not too different from breast augmentation, plastic surgery, or liposuction. It is still attempts to alter one’s natural self, subjecting the body to risky and costly cosmetic procedures in the pursuit of perfection, or in this case, imperfection.