by Elise Hempel
It's hard not to think about smiling these days, with all of the dental ads talking about it, with almost every dentist out there promising to give you “a healthy smile” or “the perfect smile” or even “a smile makeover.” A brief internet search reveals that many dentists are even using the word “smile” in the names of their practices. In Chicago, there's “We Smile Dental”; in California, “Beautiful Smiles Dentistry.” Here in central Illinois, we have, of course, “Central Illinois Smiles,” and also “Smiles Dental Center” and (yikes) “Creative Smiles” (I'd like mine the standard straight and white, please). One dentist in my town has a “Smile Gallery” on his website, with before and after photos of previous patients, all widely and happily smiling in their after-shots.
And for those who've never smiled before, there is this slogan from another website: “Start Smiling with Dental Implant Consultation Today!” In the world of dentistry, it seems, the word “teeth” is a thing of the past. Smiling is important.
I'm someone who smiles easily and often, but when my driver's license needed to be renewed a few days ago, and I had a chance to replace that horrible photo I'd lived with for eight years, I decided to try a new strategy – not smiling. I had a final opportunity to smile as the clerk adjusted the camera and asked me if I wanted to. “No,” I replied firmly, proud of my resolve. With my lack of smile, my head tipped down a a bit at the clerk's request, and my eyes intensely staring, determined not to blink when the camera flashed, the result was a look just like the one my boyfriend claims I had the night I became “a zombie” in our hotel room, when I rose from bed with my arms straight in front of me, about to kill him (actually about to get my book to read, unable to sleep). “I look a bit demented,” I said to the clerk as I stared now at my new photo, hoping she'd suggest a retake, but she said nothing (and wasn't smiling).
It's also hard not to think about the issue of smiling in the current election, with certain “strategists” believing that Hillary Clinton should smile more during forums and debates, in order to improve her “likeability”; with Donald Trump and his almost complete lack of smiling being held to a different standard; and with his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway's eternally plastered-on smile as she spins Trump's mistakes, faces uncomfortable questions, and changes the subject.
I'm also noticing the diminishing smiles of some of my favorites on MSNBC, like David Corn, a regular on the show Hardball, as he argues with the ever-unflinching Trump surrogates and supporters. Despite Hillary's recent gain in the polls, it seems to be sinking in – how it's all too close, in both time and numbers. As the frightening prospect of a Trump presidency becomes ever more imaginable, I can feel myself smiling less and less too, in direct correlation with the calendar's white squares clenching down toward November 8.
Maybe I needed my long-dead grandfather at the DMV the other day, and maybe I need him now, as I wait through this election, racist and misogynist though he was. He'd tell me some workaday adage, something simple and bright. And, though I hated it when he did, he'd call me Sunshine and tell me to “smile.”