Braces are cool, but kids still hate acne

January 04, 1998|By Susan Reimer

DURING adolescence as we knew it, there were three very good reasons to hide your face from the world: glasses, braces and zits. The Holy Trinity of social ostracism.

Any one of these afflictions could leave you eating alone in the cafeteria; all three and you would be slammed into lockers for sport.

Not anymore.

Glasses and braces are not corrective devices. They are fashion accessories. Frames are marketed by everybody from cartoon makers to couture houses. Wear glasses and your ticket is punched for contact lenses. That means you can change your eye color to match your sweater. Today's children weep upon learning that their vision is perfect.

The dreaded and painful bands that made braces such torture 20 years ago have been replaced by brackets bonded to the front of the teeth. The brackets come in colors, and the kids call them "mouth jewelry."

The alloyed wires that move the teeth are a byproduct of space exploration. You can change the color of your rubber bands to match the holiday season. In fact, the only thing that is the same about braces is that kids still throw the napkins carrying their retainers in the cafeteria trash cans.

"Metal mouth" is now a status symbol for about 3 million teen-agers in the United States and Canada.

Only a handful of them have chewing or speaking problems. The rest wear several thousand dollars worth of orthodontics for cosmetic reasons and because their friends or their favorite NFL quarterbacks do.

Who'da thought it? The diagnoses that crushed any hope we might have had for a happily obscure adolescence are now coveted by our children as signs of affluence. Glasses and braces are membership cards in the I Can Get My Parents to Spend Money on Anything Club.

Not so zits.

So far, nobody wants zits.

Apparently the public relations machine that convinced teens that braces and glasses are cool has met its match in acne.

You could paste a Tommy Hilfiger label on your face, have Michael Jordan drape his arm around your neck and, still, no teen-aged boy would want your zits.

You could name one of the Spice Girls "Zit Spice," and no teen-age girl would want zits.

I can only conclude that zits continue to be unpopular because everybody gets them the minute they hit puberty, so zits will never be considered exclusive.

If zits were expensive, if a kid could be on the leading edge of a trend by having zits, if zits came in colors you could change to match your outfit, then zits would be popular. Then zits would be on the gotta-have-it list of every kid in the MTV kingdom.

During a recent holiday gathering of adolescents to whom I am related by birth and marriage, I asked the kids to comment on the nature of zits.

Every one of these 11 children in the room had braces, glasses or both, and were unself-conscious about those things. But all were unhappily resigned to years of unexpected facial eruptions and to the shame that comes with them.

My nephew Bill, college-aged and wiser, counseled patience among his younger male cousins. "Just wait until you can shave, then you can slice them off."

My niece Jessica, who is 16 and has a face as smooth and clear as alabaster, was nonetheless able to complain: "If you have a lot of zits, no one says anything. I get one and everybody notices."

Stephen, who has turned his mother prematurely gray with his Goodwill Industry clothing choices and his guitar playing, declared that the only good zit was "one that smacks against the mirror when you pop it."

As you might imagine, the conversation quickly deteriorated from there, and nothing good was said about zits.

This much is certain, the kids agreed, even if you are wearing designer frames or contact lenses tinted violet or candy-colored braces, all anyone at school will notice are your new zits.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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