My older son got braces last week, and has been basking in the glory of having “teeth bling” ever since. He has received myriad compliments about how cool his new braces look; I expected them from the adults in his life, but was surprised to hear that his peers have also been commenting on his awesome new metallic smile. It made me think about how braces have morphed into an exciting status symbol/ rite of passage for young teenagers, when back in my day they were considered a curse.
It seems like half the population of tweens and teens are showing off their shiny metal grins, whereas when I was in junior high I knew a girl who refused to show her teeth for the two years she was undergoing orthodontic treatment. Brace Face and Metal Mouth were actual insults, whereas now braces are so commonplace and, frankly, desired, that no one would think of making fun of a child with braces.
It really made me think of all the things that have changed in perception from when I was young.
Remember how people would dress up like a nerd for Halloween? Revenge of the Nerds? Can’t Buy Me Love? Being a nerd was considered to be social suicide, whereas now I think we can all agree that being nerdy is where it’s at. After all, those nerds can really make the big bucks, and with computers being so deeply entrenched in our society, acceptance of the nerd is now at an all-time high.
It’s not like anyone thought smoking was a particularly good idea back in 1990, but it was certainly acceptable. At high school, there were designated Smoke Doors and even a part of the compound that was the Smoking Section. When I got my first office job as a summer student in 1997 some people still smoked in their offices, and I remember one professor telling me about the days when he and his students would smoke in class. I think someone would get pelted with rotten tomatoes if they tried lighting up in a lecture hall now, and at a school? Forget about it.
When I was a teenager I went to school with some real punks: the big boots, the leather and chains, and the Mohawk haircuts. These guys – and some girls – were badass and maybe even a little bit scary to a princess-type like me; they threw parties with lots of booze and drugs, some of them didn’t live with their parents, and there were always a few hanging out at the Smoke Doors. Only people who were very cutting edge and part of the punk culture had a Mohawk; now you see it on any given toddler coming out of Beaners’ with a lollipop.
Speaking of punks, the only people who had hair colour that wasn’t a natural shade were the same people wearing Mohawks and chains. In fact, I don’t really remember anyone in junior high who coloured their hair; there might have been a few highlights and perhaps a Body Shop henna shade on some girls, but it certainly wasn’t common. And green, pink, purple, or blue hair colour? That was not for the pedestrian. Nowadays, though, it’s completely mainstream and even on fleek to have at least a streak of bright colour. Walk into any junior high class and you’re guaranteed to see several rainbow shades of hair.
I have three earrings in my right ear and one in my left, and let me tell you, people, back in 1989, in my house, that was a scandal indeed. I had my ears pierced courtesy of an aunt on my ninth birthday, but when I was 13 I got a double piercing, followed by my third the next year. I snuck out to a salon in Estevan, Saskatchewan while visiting my grandparents that summer. My grandma knew and vowed to keep it a secret from my father who would flip out at such wanton behaviour. I had successfully hidden it for eight months until one unlucky day when I had pulled my hair into a ponytail. “NICOLE. What is with the DUAL PIERCED EARRINGS?” he said in his Scary Dad voice, and because I was evidently not very savvy, I said, “Actually, Dad, it’s three earrings, I just don’t have the bottom ones in.” With the brou-ha-ha that ensued, you would have thought I would have come home with a prison neck tattoo or something. I mean, it’s not like I had a tongue stud, which I think we all can agree has but one connotation. My dad might have been conservative even at the time, but he wasn’t totally alone in this. I knew several men of his age who would have fainted if their sons had come home with an earring, let alone two. I mean, think of the guys now who have those circular earrings that stretch their lobes out. THAT’S a crazy fad, to me, but maybe in 20 years everyone will have them. Or, those guys will just have droopy earlobes and deep regrets.