"All I wanted was a smile I wasn't afraid of."

"All I wanted was a smile I wasn't afraid of."

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First of all I'd like to introduce myself, My name is Donna, I prefer Rainee or D, only my parents call me Donna these days. I have been known as Rainee or D for over 10 years by my closest friends and family. I'm here to share my story with regards to fashion, and how I use it to enable me to function as a "normal" member of society and deal with some of the hang ups I have both with my body image and when meeting new people.

Donna Burrell

When I was younger I was never terribly aware of how I looked to others, other than the things that people pointed out about me that were different, I'm a red head, so the most obvious thing was my red hair, it was constantly pointed out to be unusual and caused some amount of bullying through my school life, it was therefore the first thing I experimented with as I got to an age where I was in control of what I did to my own body and hair.
I dyed it, and I dyed it all the colours of the rainbow for nearly 20 years! Firstly to cover up the red, but in later years it became the perfect weapon to use to detract from
the other thing that has made me self-conscious. I didn't start with this hang-up until I was maybe 12/13 and I can pinpoint how it started, it was probably the single most memorable thing that has ever been said to me that stuck regarding how I look.

I was told during a routine appointment by my dentist that healthy teeth were white.

At that time I had 2 adult teeth growing through more yellow than white, and that is when my nightmare began.
After that appointment with my dentist my life turned into a daily effort to get my teeth white. Not just for me either, my Dad would mentioned it to me everytime I saw him,
cleaning my teeth became obsessive.
I was determined that my teeth would be white, they couldn't be yellow! Yellow was the colour of dirty teeth, unhealthy teeth, the problem with this is that everybody tells you as a kid that:

1 -  You need to clean your teeth
2  - If you are doing it properly they should be white 

My parents re-enforced this, my grandparents re-enforced this as did the television, school, magazines and even my friends. So with this much pressure there was only one thing for it I set about making my teeth white. I tried everything to get them white, I brushed them several times a day, I scrubbed them with tooth brushes, nail brushes, I tried smokers toothpaste. I tried normal toothpaste, I tried kitchen cleaners.

I even resorted to bleach and a scourer at one point.

Nothing worked and I was stuck with 2 teeth out of a whole mouth of gnasher's that stayed yellow and everybody kept telling me they were yellow. This "make them white" campaign lasted all the way through my late teens and into my early twenties. I became obsessive with how I looked, and not just my teeth!

There aren't that many photos of me really beyond the age of 14, those that DO exist are minus a smile. Over the years my own insecurities about how I look have completely molded everything about me. To this day I am still a camera ninja! I avoid cameras, if I am forced into a situation I will 9 times out of ten turn my head away or place my hand over my mouth.
If you watch me interact with people I will place my hands over my mouth at any opportunity, there is really no getting away from the fact that my worst feature as far as I am concerned (still) is slap bang in the middle of my face!

So when I realised I couldn't make them white I resorted to distracting people away from my teeth. First of all, I went all Goth and I still am a little bit "goth" to this day. I will wear black and let my hair loose, I will paint my nails with unusual designs, I will if I can wear unusual shoes. I ALWAYS make sure that if I'm out and about I choose accessories that are eye-catching and draw people away from my teeth. Now even as an older woman, reaching a time of my life where, if I were in any way sane I wouldn't care quite so much how I look to others, and for the most part my 20's and 30's whilst I was caught up with raising my own children, I pretty much forgot about my own teeth, there was far too much else going on to be self-conscious all the time.

Although as my children grew up, their visits to the dentist were unpleasant for me, I still cannot step foot inside a dentist surgery, the idea of seeing a dentist causes a complete melt down for me. I did manage to brave some visits with my kids but I also relied on my mum and their father to take them. 

I was keen to ensure that my children should never go through what I went through so I have now done my own research. Both my children have inherited my genes and both of them have the odd teeth that are slightly yellow but I have never told my children that their teeth should be white because I now know that healthy teeth aren't necessarily white. Healthy teeth can be yellow, and in fact yellow teeth are stronger than their bright white counterparts.

Writing this story I am now 45 and I would like to be able to tell you that I now have zero worries about my teeth but sadly it is still a problem I am battling. 6 months ago I made the decision to revive a Graphic & Web Development Business that I had ran with a partner a few years ago; we set about resetting the business up, re-writing our CMS and I dusted off my pencils, we were good to go! 

I had even decided that I was actually going to be brave and go out in to the big bad world in person and meet people to promote our services to. I felt strongly that we had a unique product, we are a fantastic team and there was absolutely nothing I could point at and say that may be a problem going forwards.
Systems in place, talent still intact everything was rosy in my wee garden so I informed family and friends and they supported me and encouraged me to get out and about.
They helped me overcome the crippling anxieties that had developed over the 10 years I'd been networking online, hiding behind a computer screen.
You see it doesn't matter from here, whilst I'm sat typing and speaking to people online nobody can see my teeth, nobody comments, I can laugh & smile without feeling self-conscious about what I look like to be fair the majority of people I talk to on a daily basis are probably more likely to wonder if I got dressed yet today than worry about the colour of my teeth.

My relationship with my dad over the years of rearing my children disintegrated just a tad, it seems 2 children by 2 different dads, a divorce, a period of homelessness
and a few other disappointments had made our relationship possibly one of the most toxic relationships I have ever had. I'd like to say my father supported me in what we were doing, and he did I suppose in his own way, he checked I knew what I was doing, asked all the right questions about systems, bank accounts, our price range, our potential clients the conversation was going well, I was starting to feel like maybe, just maybe this would be a turning point for us and our relationship at least, and that we could gain some common ground and he would maybe help me a wee bit to get where I wanted to be.
We bought coffee, we sat down and we had a lovely chat about the future, about how well this could go and what I was going to do differently. I told him that I would be climbing out of my self imposed "box" and networking face to face with other business owners, now I was at that time feeling not entirely comfortable with the public interaction, I had worked in customer services for most of my life I could do this!

Then he asked me if I was going to get my teeth fixed first?

To be honest after all these years that kind of knocked me for 6! All of a sudden I was 13 again, I was there ready to face the world and my dad had with 1 sentence
undone 20 years of not giving a monkeys and re-opened a Pandora's box of insecurity!

Luckily I have a stronger support network around me and my personality these days is a wee bit more resilient and I took myself home from that "Happy Lunch" with a rather heavy heart, I had come such a long way and I had been undone .. albeit temporarily.

When I got home that day I sat down and I wrote, I wrote down all the things people would notice about me when they met me. Unsurprisingly my teeth was at the top of that list, followed by my hair, followed by my lack of eye contact, the list was long, but here is the thing. I realised that there were things on that list that people were likely to notice long before they spotted my teeth.

Donna Burrell

Most days, I dress head to toe in black 
My hair is always a fuzzy red mess
I only ever make up my eyes 
I only wear rose Gold or Copper Jewellery
My nails are normally Painted/Glittery
My shoes are important 
There is ALWAYS a rainbow on my person somewhere

I'm still conscious of my teeth, and I'm still compensating and distracting, looking for accessories that will give people something
to remember me by aside from my sparkling personality and awful teeth. I have a growing collection of scarves, I have a growing collection of Black Clothes, I have a growing collection of glittery and rainbow coloured accessories. My footwear is getting fancier.

I will most likely always head out having checked myself over to be sure there is something "sparkly" or a "rainbow" for people to remember me by, that's a habit now. The things I used to hide behind are the very same things that get me noticed and remembered when I am out and about. My accessories are part of my personality and branding now, and it is more about being noticed because of them, rather than hiding behind them.
One thing I have learnt is that no matter what anybody else thinks when they look at you, what you yourself think is the most important bit.
I know my teeth aren't great, they have been made worse by the scrubbings and bleaching over the years. I still won't smile at the camera, well I will, but only with my mouth shut......... I've come a long way. 
but I do know that other people's opinions are just that, opinions; my own matters far more than theirs.

My accessories these days are for my own pleasure and I buy them for me, because I like pretty things. This may read like a dire description of teenage angst that lasted into my forties but the bigger picture has been a transformation of my own perspective of myself.

I now know that I am far more than a set of pearly whites.




Wow; that was a very honest and moving account from Donna, whom I admire greatly for sharing her story. If anyone would like to contact Donna directly you can reach her at Unicorn Farts where she will happily discuss Unicorn, Rainbows, Sparkly things, Graphic Design and Web services with you. 


Thanks for reading

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