Faith Hill braces and Helen Mirren pink hair: Parsing the fairy tale of beauty

Faith Hill braces and Helen Mirren pink hair? As a parent it makes you realize beauty is more a fairytale we tell our children and ourselves at every age.

John Shearer/Invision/AP
Faith Hill, left, (with Tim McGraw at the Grammy Awards Feb. 10) has braces; and Helen Mirren wore pink hair to the BAFTAs. A mom parses the fairy tales of beauty we tell our children.

The Tooth Fairy and Tinkerbell must be having a field day yesterday at the Grammy Awards as Singer Faith Hill donned Tinsel Town teeth, re-binding teeth that had seen braces in childhood to maintain a perfect smile, while actress Helen Mirren at 67, risked her image on pink pixie-cut hair at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

As a parent it makes you realize beauty is more a fairytale we tell our children and ourselves at every age.

It seems to me that Ms. Hill and Ms. Mirren are successfully living different roles of the same tale: princess and fairy godmother. I have loved watching Mirren glide effortlessly through a storied life from striking beauty to what People magazine celebrates as, “The first-ever Dame Commander of the British Empire to sport a pastel pink pixie.”

Traditional fairy tales offer women a limited number of roles: pre-princess (before braces, makeup and godmother), perfect princess (fairy and non-fairy variety), chubby jolly comic relief (any age), fairy godmother (witty, comes with silver, pink, or blue hair) and crone.

Crone is the one we continue to run from even throughout adulthood because she’s always evil. Crone is wrinkled, with straggly gray hair, age spots, and of course, really bad teeth. If we look into the magic mirror and see her, it’s time for potions, wires, and other dark magics.

I can’t blame Hill for joining the ranks of other celebs who chose adult dental correction, a group that includes but is not limited to: Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage (who wore braces on his lower teeth at 39) and even Danny Glover who got braces two months shy of his 60th birthday. Vanity thy name is human, not woman. Don’t think for a moment boys aren’t paying attention to the fact that the prince is handsome, vain, buff, and the light sparkles off his teeth, while the alternative is the scrawny, uncoordinated stable boy who never gets the girl.

Who can blame anyone for wanting the winning role, particularly those whose lives are all about role-playing?

I had braces as a child. My mother, Parsons School of Design graduate and former Macy’s private label designer knew that beauty is highly prized and she wanted me to be a prize-winner. It didn’t work of course because no amount of bracing could overcome the genetics of Eastern Europe with Poland and Germany in the mix and living with a Grandma and Great Grandmother in the house who could cook a mean perogi and kielbasa dinner.

I often look back and wonder what straightening my teeth really did for me as a person. The answer is, not much. However, they made my mom feel like she was being a good mom because society told her good mothers give their child every advantage; and for girls in the late 1960s that meant straight teeth.

Growing up around models with a mom who regularly starved, straightened, curled, bleached, dyed, and otherwise perfected and made-up her appearance daily, I still make the effort, despite knowing I am the plucky comic relief and not the princess stereotype.

Some mischievous little part of me wants to send Mom a picture of Mirren and see if I can’t tempt her into turning her already pixie-cut hair pink. At 82, still a size 6 at 5’2” with snow-white hair, I know she would rock it.

Personally, I was really happy when the new princess type, Miranda, emerged from the movie "Brave." Her hair’s a wreck, she ruins her gowns, detests fashion, and is a wicked good archer. Of course she does get her mother turned into a bear, but it turns into a great lesson in seeing other points of view. Still, if I were a little girl, I would probably still come away wishing I had Miranda’s china doll face, perfect nose, straight white teeth and tiny waist. I’m a gonner.

As I get closer to 50 I run harder, diet more vigorously, and try to color-away the gray in my hair while fretting over the white of my teeth. It’s exhausting. So much energy lavished on a fairytale curse we bestow thinking it’s a gift.

Still, I try to tell my mother the best gifts she gave me were when we planted tulips together in the yard, burned pancakes on a Sunday and when she made a window seat in my bedroom as a retreat where I could sit with an apple and my favorite book. She still feels she failed me because I look in a mirror and don’t see any magic there.

Still, I know a happy ending is when our children know we love them, crooked teeth, chubby legs, messy hair, and all.

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