Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spotlight Effect

Growing up, one of the things that I was most self-conscious about was the gap in my front teeth. It was never a big gap, but because all my other teeth are almost perfectly straight, I never needed to have braces so the gap never got closed. But, boy, was I still so very aware of it.

I got into a regular habit of making sure my tongue was tucked firmly in behind my front teeth whenever I smiled so that it would hide the gap as much as possible. My first girlfriend after the mission even took some brownie one time and stuck it in her front teeth, laughed, and then said she was me. That got under my skin. And then at some point a few years ago I just kind of stopped thinking about it and it wasn't a big deal anymore. I'd notice it every now and then, but it didn't bother me in the same way.

Last year when Amy and I were sitting around looking at pictures, she asked me if I ever thought about getting that gap fixed. Thankfully, it wasn't in a suggestive-you-really-should-get-that-taken-care-of-kind-of-way, but really just wondering. The answer: Yes, a lot as a kid, some as a young adult, not really as an adult though. She mentioned someone else having a similar kind of thing and that it only took one visit to the dentist to get it taken care of.

So when I visited the dentist a month or so ago, he actually talked about how he would fix it with his dental assistant as if I weren't sitting in the chair with my ears fully functional, and that's when I decided I'd get it done. It really was such a quick visit.

The funny thing about it, however, is that no one else has noticed. I'm pretty sure it's not one of those things where they might have seen it and just not said anything. They just didn't seem to notice, and I say this because I actually pointed it out to two people after I had the work done and even when they stared at my two front teeth, it took them a few seconds to even realize what had been done.

Those kinds of things are funny. Those things that we worry so much about, other people hardly even notice. In psychology they call it the spotlight effect. What you think is a big deal to the whole world hardly ever gets any attention from anyone else because they're too busy worrying and wondering if you are noticing what it is that they are insecure about.

In some ways, I can really understand the value of cosmetic surgery. Sometimes there are disfigurements and things that change how people treat others, and those kinds of things are well within reason for getting fixed, at least in my judgment.

But then there are other things that you want fixed, but you even when the "problem" has been solved, you still find reasons to be insecure anyway. The problem isn't the supposed deformity, but your insecurity with it. If you haven't learned to deal with the insecurity, then fixing the deformity won't change the problem because you'll just find another thing to be insecure about.

I got the gap fixed, but wouldn't you know it, when I got home later that day, the next thing I noticed wasn't what a great job the dentist did in making it blend perfectly, but how my slightly chipped right front tooth feels more prominent because now the visible line of my top row of teeth no longer has a gap, but now it slants slightly upward on one side. Sometimes it's just too easy to focus on what's wrong instead of what's right.

Just musing is all.


Laura said...

In all my years knowing you I never noticed the gap. Interesting take on insecurities and I agree

Dave said...

Me neither! I'm pretty sure I've spent more time with you than anyone on the planet and I've never noticed a gap--nor have you ever mentioned it.


Lisa said...

Interesting to think about... and I think you're right, people are probably worried about themselves and not about my insecurities.

Kind of freeing, actually.