When beauty is in the mind of the beholder
People like to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – that it’s just a matter of personal taste. I disagree. I think the ancient Greeks had it right when they said that beauty is built right into the way mature works.
I have been in situations, however, where beauty was definitely in the mind of the beholder. Some patients are blissfully unconcerned about the scientific and aesthetic principles of beauty. They have their own sometimes very odd notions of the kind of smile that will look good on them.
Quite a while ago now, Nancy came in for a consultation. I explained the principles of smile design in great detail and told her what I thought her smile should be.
“I really appreciate your vision,” she said, “but at the end of the day, it’s not what I want. In fact, I can tell you exactly what I want.”
Whereupon Nancy pulled out a file with several sheets of graphics paper – the kind architects used before the days of computer- assisted design – with pictures of beautiful smiles clipped to them.
My own smile froze when she said she narrowed her search down to a smile like Heather Locklear’s.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! I had to keep from clutching my head in disbelief. Why, when her own face was tapered and her mouth and teeth were small, would she pick this particular actress to emulate, this beauty whose big-toothed, big-lipped smile travels resplendently from ear to ear across two gorgeously prominent cheekbones?
I adopted a diplomatic air that Condoleezza Rice would have envied. I reinforced that I had heard her, that I understood what she wanted. Then I segued into the gentle but firm point that what she wanted was not architecturally correct for her.
No reaction. I shifted to a more personal approach, and said, in my most caring tone, “But in this case, Nancy, I’m really worried…”
“It’s not Nancy, its Nansay,” she said.
I realized in that instant that a woman so particular about an idiosyncratic pronunciation of a common name was not someone who could be told what she should want.
“If I Heather Locklear smile is what you’re really looking for, I can do that for you,” I told her, “but on two conditions. One is that you will keep me as your dentist the rest of your life and never show another dentist the work I did for you. The other is that if anyone ever asks you who worked on you, you are to say you can’t remember.”
Nancy – I mean Nansay – agreed, and she’s been true to her word in the decade-plus since. What’s more, she is thrilled with her smile to this very day.
Edward S. Philips, D.D.S.