I haven’t smiled in a photograph in more than two years. My once enthusiastic toothy grin has been replaced with a closed-mouth smirk that sort of looks like I am sucking on something sour. It’s either that or I make a silly expression in which I try to manage smiling with my eyes instead of my mouth. Smiling is something that should come naturally. But it seems that I may have actually forgotten how to do it.

Weird. Yet true. After a spate of comments from friends, family and most recently my boyfriend, I tried practicing facial expressions and mannerisms in a mirror. It was awkward, fake looking, and largely unsuccessful.

This may sound strange coming from the half-glass-full-girl that I am. So let me explain. In May of 2008 I fractured my front teeth and jawbone in a bicycle accident. For a while it hurt to smile. Then it just hurt to look at my smile. It was painful to see myself with what I perceived as a big gaping hole where my once naturally straight teeth used to be. Vanity. Judgment. A sense of powerlessness. All of these factored into the ugliness I saw in my toothless appearance.

I didn’t think my lack of smiling was a bother to anyone (beyond all those pictures I’ve ruined in the last couple of years), but lately I’ve begun to consider the power of a smile. Smiling creates an atmosphere. You can make yourself or others feel better by smiling. It’s contagious, smile and people will smile back at you. Smiling is not only a sign of happiness, but of unity and recognition. It’s a universal gesture that makes people feel welcome and loved. A sincere smile can be the difference between putting someone at ease or discomfort, showing a sign of inclusion or exclusion. Which makes me realize that not only have I looked a bit silly with my sour pucker, but that I inadvertently  may have  had a negative impact on other people. If smiling is a small act of kindness, then perhaps by not smiling I have been unkind.

And so I’ve decided that beginning this week I am going to try to stop feeling so self-conscious and smile more often. What’s more, I’d like to offer a challenge to others to try and smile at everyone you pass on the street for one day. Sure, some people may not notice, but keep smiling anyway. You may even feel foolish, but I promise you won’t look any more idiotic than I have trying not to smile over the past two years.

My hope is that your smile will encourage others to do the same. Maybe smiling won’t change the world, but if you smile enough then chances are that eventually you will change someone’s day for the better. Smile. And be kind.


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