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Why These R29ers Are Finally Embracing Their Smiles

From mirror selfies with our mates in our favourite pubs and clubs to group photos at festivals and park picnics, there’s a lot to smile about right now. With lockdown restrictions having eased, it’s time to exhale, let go of our self-consciousness and grin unapologetically from ear to ear. 
Refinery29 has partnered with Colgate Max White Ultimate to celebrate the power of our unique smiles. There’s no denying the confidence-boosting power of a white toothy grin – which doesn't mean it has to be 'perfect'. Not only can a smile make someone else’s day, it can also lift your own mood. As we’ll hear below, sometimes a bad day calls for a fake-it-til-you-make-it approach – and it’s only after you force a smile that your mindset changes for the better.
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Read on for an insight into what’s making R29 staff and friends of R29 smile post-lockdown, and why they’re ready to let go of the insecurities that once held them back.

Maggie Matić, 28, is a writer, researcher and curator from London.

I love my smile. My wife always tells me how beautiful I am when I’m smiling, which fills me with confidence. I used to be self-conscious about it when I was younger because I had braces from the age of 12 to 18. Now I look back and realise braces are cool as hell and I wish I’d embraced them more.
Lockdown was weird because suddenly we had to look at ourselves in virtual meetings and we got an insight into how other people see us. It reminded me of the importance of smiling, expressing yourself and connecting with people. One particularly funny and cheeky colleague would message me during work meetings and I’d have to try not to grin and crack up laughing. The digital world brought us all these weird and wonderful new experiences. 
We’ve all had a difficult and isolating 18 months which has driven home the importance of friends, family and community. One of the most important things in life is to be around people who make you smile and bring you joy. It was great to see us all find ways to keep coming together digitally and at safe distances in the face of such adversity.

Kerry Lockwood, 35, is a seamstress, designer and creative based in Brighton.

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When I was 17, someone observed that I was 'perpetually smiling' – he was quite dour so I think it irritated him. Smiling comes naturally to me and it makes me feel more confident and assertive when I enter a room with a huge beam. I have crooked bottom teeth so I've felt conscious of my smile, particularly in my youth, but no one ever pays as much attention to these things as we do ourselves. 
My boyfriend always makes me smile – he’s a surreal, gentle and hilarious person to live with – and my 9-month-old goddaughter makes me beam from ear to ear. Making her laugh is the best feeling. Sunday mornings always cheer me up – it's my favourite day of the week and has a different pace to other days. 
I once went through a heinous breakup and I read that you should smile at your own reflection to boost your mood and serotonin levels – you feel like an idiot doing it, but I think it did some good.

Roxy Murray, 33, is a multiple sclerosis advocate and host of the podcast Sick and Sickening.

Connecting with friends and family this summer after so much distance and separation was amazing. Being able to see a beautiful smile has become more of a gift and I savour it and return it in kind. Whether it’s with a stranger or someone I know, I find sharing a smile is like therapy – heartwarming and a sign that says ‘I see you and we’re in this world together’.  
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Playing with fashion and styling allows me to express myself and use my creative skills, which makes me smile, along with the MS community I’ve connected with online while advocating for change and better representation.
Smiling is more than just a kind gesture. A smile can bring so much joy and strength to our bodies. What can seem like an act of kindness to another can actually be a tool of self-love, too. A big smile or laugh is an instant health boost.

Lauren Seaton, 27, is Refinery29 UK’s junior operations manager.

At the top of the list of things that make me smile are dogs. I’m the weird person that stops mid-conversation if a dog goes by and I have to say hello to it. I was recently reunited with my puppy after two years of being apart and I haven't stopped beaming.
Saying this, I don't always feel confident when smiling with my teeth. I’ve been a smoker for 10 years – sorry, Mum! – and I have a few oral piercings so I've put my teeth through it. I had braces as a kid and I haven’t got over my insecurity as I’ve got older. But I've realised that people aren't staring at my teeth and now let myself be more natural.
Your teeth don't have to be like the ones you see on social media. As self-conscious as you may be about your smile, you shouldn't let it stop you from expressing happy emotions. Nobody is perfect, everyone is unique – embrace it.
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Laurene Mpia, 30, is a senior producer at Refinery29 UK.

I’m a smiley person and alway have been. Sometimes it’s hard not to smile or hide my joy! I’m very comfortable with my smile even though I don’t particularly love my teeth.
Having a conversation with someone I love brings a smile to my face automatically. As does waking up when it’s sunny – I have a huge window in my bedroom that lets natural light in – and knowing it’s Friday or the weekend.
If I smile it means I am in a good mood, I wouldn’t show my teeth otherwise. But you don’t need ‘perfect’ teeth, lips or face to smile. It’s all about love and the good energy you give off. Smiling has never been more important and I think people have started smiling a lot more since the world reopened.

Sarah Harris, 24, is a freelance journalist and master’s student in public health at University of Nottingham.

My nephews and nieces make me smile; so does seeing other people happy, especially when I see random strangers looking like they’re having a good time.
The last year has been emotionally draining and I think everyone needed a boost. I made sure that whenever I wasn’t wearing a mask, I’d smile at everyone I passed by, even if they didn’t smile back. Most of my classes were online and my professors would say they found it difficult to engage with students from behind a screen. I always made sure I smiled during lectures – even if I had no idea what they were talking about!
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Meg O'Donnell-Bath, 28, is Refinery29 UK’s art editor.

My husband makes me smile daily with his top quality (read: cringe) humour, as does my sister, who always has a ridiculous story to tell me, and the dog I borrow, Dora the mini Schnoodle, kills me with her cuteness and makes me smile without fail.
I’ve recently moved to the coast and these past six months have been full of smiles as I’ve explored my new town and made new friends. Gradually, as normality is returning and life is more hopeful, I'm smiling even more.
I feel confident smiling. I had braces when I was younger – my parents paid a lot of money for them so I was determined to make sure I didn't let that money go to waste. I still wear retainers and visit the dentist every few months. I weirdly love going to the dentist, I feel so satisfied afterwards.

Keziah Ndouri, 23, is a model, content creator and recent graduate.

The top things that make me smile are my friends, who make me belly laugh, amapiano music, a subgenre of house music from South Africa that reminds me of the time I spent living there, and travelling. Whenever I feel down, I’ll seek out anything that will put a smile on my face. Sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it. Even when I’m upset, simply the act of smiling eases things. 
My smile is one of my favourite things about me. Even when I was a child and going through that weird phase where all your teeth are falling out, I still smiled and did it confidently. Once you’re feeling yourself, other people have no choice but to feel you, too.
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I hope people seek out opportunities to smile now that life is returning to normal. We’ve been through a lot and we all deserve to find joy in our lives and nurture it the best we can.

Layla Faruque, 25, is a strategist at Refinery29 UK.

I'm a firm believer that smiling can change your mood. After dealing with customers when I worked as a waitress as a teenager, I'd go into the back, take a breather and come back out smiling and it really would change my mood, so I've kept it going. 
Growing up, I wasn't particularly happy with my smile. But getting older and seeing 'perfect' smiles on social media has actually made me appreciate my smile more – it might not be Insta-perfect but it's unique and represents my happiness. While I'm smiling I don't care how it looks. 
The last year has made me realise how impersonal pre-COVID life was, and it's nice to see people looking happier as life returns to normal. I make an effort to smile at people if I share eye contact with them, which is a very Northern concept that I forgot when I moved to London. I believe smiles are contagious.

Heidi Herkes, 42, is a disabled person stylist and influencer who shares her journey of overcoming paralysis.

What makes me smile most are my dog, Hadley, sunshine and acts of kindness. It makes me feel better immediately – laughter is sometimes the best medicine. My friends say I’m pretty upbeat and bubbly. Since my accident, although I may be paralysed, I’m forever thankful to still be alive and appreciate all that it has to offer.
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There are always things that will put a smile on your face, even though some days you have to look a little harder. During lockdown I kept myself busy with upcycling furniture, interior design and virtual girls’ nights in. Being in nature also helped tremendously.
Now that the world is opening up again, opportunities are too, and sunshine always brings a smile to people’s faces. Smiling is a beautiful thing. It makes you and everyone around you feel good. It’s the best thing you can wear and it’s completely free.
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