Braces are a tangible horror that many endure, whose lingering trauma can be spiritually violent.

At least for me!

I wore braces for 6 long years (a brief hiatus in 7th grade, which ended shortly after my orthodontist realized my heinous jaw was actually working in tandem with my post-braces retainer to murder my smile even more than it had been); I was also required to wear a special kind of headgear in my "off hours" that looked more like Hannibal Lecter's muzzle than anything else.

I spent the next few years color coordinating my AIM message text and background with my seasonal brace-band colors.

But I persevered through years of grimacing...

...and in 10th grade, my teeth were loosened from their prison, only to trade that in for a lifetime spent shackled to a nightly retainer, something I still deal with today.

Obviously, my experience has left me admittedly fixated with teeth, and doubly fascinated by those who never required orthodontic renovation.

In honor of PAPER's Health and Wellness Month, I chatted with a few of these glistening anomalies about their brace-free paths in life.

Sofiya Alexandra, Comedian/Writer, Los Angeles

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on a cultural rite of passage -- that is, having braces? Or "Fuck no!"

I grew up in Odessa, Ukraine, and very few kids I knew had braces or needed them for some reason, so when I moved here and like every other kid had braces I was confused. I was like, what's going on in this country that all the kids are snaggletooths? And it's funny because I have a ton of cavities because we didn't put fluoride in the water in the former USSR but I have always had straight teeth, as have most people in my family. The only time I felt I was missing out is later on when I became a huge No Doubt fan and Gwen had pink hair and braces and I was like I NEED THIS TO BE ME.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up, and going through the hell of puberty and class photos?

I was an immigrant with a Russian accent, curly bangs, glasses, and flowered jumpsuits that were 4 inches too short on me, so having good teeth was definitely not anything you would notice on me.

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

I never did because no one with braces (or without, honestly) ever asked me out, but I guess I would now. I don't know, are they like clear Tom Cruise ones or straight-up metal? The clear ones are cool. It might be weird to date an adult with metal braces, but if you're a rad person, who cares?

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence? (Ie: teeth whitening, veneers, flossin')

I hate flossing but I also hate dental work so I do the best I can, but no teeth whitening here. I tried Crest strips and that was too much for me, so I kinda pussied out of the whole thing. Plus, I think my smile is dope as hell unassisted.

Are teeth one of the first physical things you notice in another person?

No. Dick size.

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic?

See number 3

Who's your favorite pop cultural icon, in film or TV, who wore braces?

1999 Gwen Stefani forever and always.



Joel Kim Booster, Comedian/Actor/Writer, New York City

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on the cultural rite of passage that is, having braces? Or "Fuck no!"

I absolutely did. I was that kid who fudged his eye exams because I wanted glasses so badly. I think for me, a sheltered homeschooled kid whose only point of reference for normal rites of passages came from pop culture, having glasses and braces and acne all seemed very important to me. Unfortunately I never got the braces. Though now my bottom teeth are a little fucked up, I am nearly blind and developed adult acne at 22. So mozel, I guess.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up?

I was a gangly Asian kid whose arms were too long for his body. So I guess it was a good thing I didn't have them, because I wouldn't have looked like a monster.

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

My very first boyfriend in high school had braces. I honestly have no specific feelings about that either way. I remember thinking when he got them off shortly after we broke up, that it didn't seem like a huge difference to me. I guess I probably would now? They'd have to have an incredible bod.

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence?

Whitening is probably coming up more and more as an actor. My teeth aren't disgusting, but after years of smoking and coffee, they could be whiter, sure.

Are teeth one of the first physical things you notice in another person?

Nope. Not unless there is something overwhelmingly remarkable about them or they are busted beyond measure.

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic?

Wait -- is this a thing? Are people doing this? No. I'm not open to them. My dentist has suggested an orthodontist visit recently for my bottom teeth and I kind of feel like they are what they are at this point.

Who's your favorite pop cultural icon, in film or TV, who wore braces?

Probably Sharon Spitz from Braceface. She did a lot to open my eyes to the fact that like, wow— hot people have braces too.


Fanta Sesay, Actress, Los Angeles

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' by not having braces?

I did! I will never forget the day when my best friend in grade three, Trish, told me that it was an inevitability that I too was going to have to get braces and that I shouldn't feel so good about not having to wear them now. Immediately, I went home and told my mom I needed braces, then she proceeded to yell at me, telling me that "just because everyone else at school has something doesn't mean you have too, too." Regardless, I felt left out, because most of my friends seemed to have them.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up?

I think it would've, but I was so awkward in other ways that I don't think I appreciated it. BUT I was always super grateful that I never had food constantly stuck in my teeth, or that I had to replace those little rubber bands, or get them re-wired (is that the correct terminology?) because everyone talked about how painful that was.

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

I've never dated someone with braces, but honestly I would be open to it. I've seen some adult braces that are pretty cute -- and also there's invisalign, which makes them look invisible (I'm suddenly realizing how much I know about braces).

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence?

I definitely feel pressure to hold up my current dental existence. I would call it a huge failure if I ever had to go in and get major work done, like crowns etc. So I insist on not eating candy, or hard nuts (omg haha), floss every day, brush twice a day with an electric toothbrush and baking soda (this sounds more manic now that I'm writing it down)

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic?

In all honesty, I would prefer to get veneers than wear braces -- I'm also an actress so I don't know how I could make that work. Maybe if I owned it.


Jonathan Buckley, Writer, New York City

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on the cultural rite of passage that is, having braces? Or "Fuck no!"

When everyone got them I wanted them too, but the feeling passed quickly.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up and going through the hell of puberty/class photos?

It never crossed my mind.

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

I made out with someone who had braces. They were in college and I was in high school. They came out to me...that they had braces. Even then it was sort of a deal breaker. So I probably wouldn't date someone with braces...unless I really liked them.


Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence?

No, I never had braces, but I've had a lot of cavities. So it's all a facade.

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic?

I think they can be chic (insert Gwen Stefani 1999)


Russell Zam, Accountant, New York

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on a cultural rite of passage? Or "Fuck no!"

I have a vivid memory of changing in the locker room for 3rd period gym class in middle school with my two best gay friends, as they discussed what colors they were going to choose for their braces the next time they went to the orthodontist. This memory is odd because it isn't tinged with the usual filter of teen gay panic of "don't get caught looking at boys/all three of us are totally looking at boys right?/don't blow our collective cover of looking at boys right now or I'm going to make veiled posts about how much you suck on LiveJournal later)." Instead I remember the sudden jealousy of my two friends having to make accessory choices I didn't ever have to consider.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up?

I don't remember not having braces impacting class photos or candid photos with friends (LOL to those shitty Kodak sticker cameras). I was more focused on making sure the outfit my mom picked out for me for the class pictures wasn't too Arizona-jeans-ad.

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

No and sure!

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence? I.e. teeth whitening, veneers, flossin'

Yes. My same two best gay friends have an obsession with teeth whitening and limiting their smoking and coffee intake. This has always struck me as odd, but I guess hearing your parents still talk about how much money they paid for them to have nice teeth/smiles fucks you up mentally after so many years. Their subtle shade/shame that I should whiten my teeth more and how lucky I am that I don't have scar tissue inside my mouth comes up more often than you'd think.

Are teeth one of the first physical things you notice in another person?

No. I usually notice if they're the type of person who uses a card to pay for everything or do they carry cash and change because, honestly, how?

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic?

I work with a woman who is 28 and she paid double for her braces so that they would install them on the reverse of her teeth, so no one would see them and I don't know why Lena Dunham hasn't written that into a episode of Girls yet? I think maybe we're on the cusp of braces being treated the same way we treat people who use flip phones.

Who's your favorite pop cultural icon, in film or TV, who wore braces?

I don't know but I feel like Ke$ha probably wore braces. I have no proof to back up this claim, but can't you just see it?



Kevin Farzad, Writer/Musician, Los Angeles

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on the cultural rite of passage that is, having braces? Or "Fuck no!"

Yeah, I think I did feel like I was missing out, because everyone had braces. And anything that all the kids were doing that you weren't was cause for fear.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up?

Somehow, even without braces, puberty managed to be hell

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

I did, and I would, sure. Call me.

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence?

The thing is, I didn't avoid braces because my teeth were perfect. My teeth have plenty of weird angles & imperfections that would probably warrant braces if I were growing up now. I think maybe we didn't have health insurance?

Are teeth one of the first physical things you notice in another person?

I would say so.

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic?

I think plenty of adults with braces look good (call me), but I don't think they're chic, right? Like, I imagine no one *wants* them. You get them because you have to. If my dentist told me that, from a medical standpoint, I need adult braces, I would probably sue him.

Who's your favorite pop cultural icon, in film or TV, who wore braces?

I couldn't think of one so I started googling, and I decided on Gwen Stefani, even though she's not film or TV, I'm sorry.

I also found this picture of Tom Cruise which I would like to share with you now:


Sophie Leng, Prop stylist, New York City

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on a cultural rite of passage by not having braces?

I actually did feel kinda special because I'm the only one of my 5 siblings that didn't need braces. I was proud to tell people that it was because I was neurotic and obsessive enough to wiggle out a loose tooth as soon as I could, it was super satisfying for me when I pulled it out. However for this past month actually, I have been feeling like I have missed out on this rite of passage; this definitely has to do with the fact that I find my smile to be lopsided and I'm pretty sure it's because I never had braces to correctly align the smile. I've been considering getting this Japanese smile trainer so not all hope is lost!

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up?

Hell no! All the popular girls had braces, so it was no big deal if you had them. I was just a lucky straight-teethed 4-eyed freak who was still awkward and shy. And to this day, can not for the life of me fake-smile on cue, which makes taking selfies hard

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

I've never dated anyone with braces. And unless the dude had some sort of massive super natural sex appeal, I don't think I could date an adult with braces now... but for a few months many moons ago, I was like swooning over this dude who had crazy meth teeth or something, so uh that goes to show that I'm not THAT shallow, right?

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence? I.e. teeth whitening, veneers, flossin'

I don't even know what veneers are, but yes, I love to floss, and I do the Crest Whitestrips every so often. I wouldn't say that I feel pressure to uphold my beautiful teeth though, it's just a natural desire to LOOK GOOD ::hair flip::. After every dentist, I practically strut out because they always tell me, "Beautiful teeth! Well done!" and I think teeth is VERY important because it gives you such insight into someone's health and hygiene. I'm the type of vain girl who's been wearing moisturizer with SPF since I was 14, so of course, I'm going to have the same standards for my smile. Also ever since I got on to those dental floss pics, I have become the QUEEN of flossing. I have a travel pack of them in my purse always, and I floss after every meal. This is also because, 8 times out of 10, I have something stuck in my teeth.

Are teeth one of the first physical things you notice in another person?

I'd say that bad teeth is one of the first things I notice. If it's good, then I just don't notice, because I'm kinda oblivious to the way someone looks upon first meeting them, probably because I'm somewhat face-blind.

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think they're chic?

I am! I wouldn't say that i think they're "chic," but i think it's super cool that they will have straight beautiful teeth eventually, and I applaud anyone who has that patience, foresight, and shamelessness to go thru with adult braces.


Matthew Risch, Actor/Writer, Los Angeles

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on a cultural rite of passage -- that is, having braces? Or "Fuck no!"

Fuck no. Braces are ugly AF. Feel vv blessed I never had to wear them.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up and going through the hell of puberty/class photos?

Absolutely. We're all vain. I describe my awkward phase as very femme Latina. Let's just say I was called "Ms." And referred to as "she" a lot. That ON TOP of braces would've thrown me over the edge.

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

Absolutely not. Just kidding. But you'd have to really own it Gwen Stefani style.

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence?

Meh. My teeth have always been slightly chicklet-y. My first dentist when I got to LA said, "we can fix this for you." "Fix WHAT bitch?" "Your front teeth. We can make them more flat and square." "You're flat and square." No, I didn't call her a bitch or flat and square but I opted not to "fix" them because her office was in Beverly Hills and if I'd said yes to that, in a year's time I'd look like Jocelyn Wildenstein to which the doctor would proudly declare, "my work here is done."

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic? In general.

No and no. Get those clear plastic behind the teeth binder thingies. I mean.. why ?

Who's your favorite pop cultural icon, in film or TV, who wore braces?

Gwen S. Obvy.


Jonathan Parks-Ramage, Writer, Los Angeles

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on a cultural rite of passage?

Fuck no. I believe that God smiled upon me with his perfect teeth, and I wouldn't trade this for anything.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up?

No. I was an awkward enough youth as it was, I didn't need to add braces to the mix. When you're in the throws of puberty, the only thing worse than being fat is being gay. I was BOTH fat AND gay. To add braces to this puberty shame-pile would've likely resulted in my death.

Did you ever date someone with braces/would you now?

I've never dated anyone with braces, and I'm now happily in a relationship -- so that ship has sailed. However, if the right brace-toothed stud crossed our paths, I'm sure my boyfriend and I would consider a threesome.

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence?

No. I always took my dental perfection totally for granted -- I still do. Flossing is something I do with appalling irregularity. For this reason, I am the consistent recipient of the merciless scorn of dental hygienists.

Are teeth one of the first physical things you notice in another person?

No, I rarely pay attention to teeth, unless the mouth in question is particularly Buscemi-esque.

Who's your favorite pop cultural icon, in film or TV, who wore braces?

Faith Hill. Who not only had the courage to don adult braces, but then draw further attention to her mouth by singing This Kiss.



Madeleine T., Archivist, New York City

Did you ever feel like you were 'missing out' on a cultural rite of passage? Or "Fuck no!"

Totally. As a child, I assumed that I would have braces and glasses and then one day I would magically get rid of both and would blow everyone away by the beautiful swan I had become. That did not happen.

Did not having braces, in any way, make life easier for you growing up and going through the hell of puberty/class photos?

No. It was all still horrible.

Did/do you ever feel 'pressure' to uphold your perfect dental existence?


I definitely do not have a perfect dental existence. I feel like I've discovered the amazingness of flossing at a very late age, after years of just flossing the day before I went to the dentist, which totally does not fool them.

Are teeth one of the first physical things you notice in another person?

No. I do like good teeth, but I also think that bad teeth are interesting.

Are you open to adult braces? Do you think adult braces are chic?

There are probably people out there who can pull off adult braces, but I am not one of them.

Who's your favorite pop cultural icon, in film or TV, who wore braces?

Stacy (Amy Poehler)-- Andy's little sister on Conan.


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