Nevertheless, she smiled. The bigger the smile, the harder the persistence. ‘Smile through the pain’ they say. If you’re from Detroit, you learn to keep a poker face on like I did. Please allow me to give you a glimpse into the reason behind my smile.
The big bird chair.
It was the source of laughter, pain, and shame. I remember like it was yesterday. After a failed attempt at a relaxer, Geri curl, and extension braids, my mom decided that she had enough. She yelled from her bedroom, “bring the Big Bird chair… and the scissors.” Without knowing my fate, I trusted my mother as I sat between her legs in our beloved Big Bird chair with my back to her. I can’t remember how long it took or if she really tried to create a style, but what I can remember is looking in the mirror mortified. My older sister was in side-splitting laughter, “you look like a mini Ice Cube!” I was in third grade.
My mother had trimmed my damaged hair to oblivion and when I examined her
work, I cried. As my mother tried to calm me, she reassured me that I was cute,
and I can wear any hairstyle. She promised me new earrings and told me that
she loved my natural hair. I cried hard and told my mom how much I would be
teased. I had a very uneven, very short afro! In third grade! The next day was
cruel. I hardly remember the names and the faces are a blur, but I do remember
how I felt. A cool kid I wanted nothing more than to be more like teased me and
taunted, ‘baldy-baldy you’ll never have a ponytail again.’
Nevertheless, She Smiled.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, “They are
Plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Those were the days (sarcasm). Affectionately referred to by
my family as SugaBear (there’s no R in Suga), to date, I live up to the name. With
my love for confectionaries, sweet treats my teeth suffered. I did not grow up in a household with health benefits, oral hygiene routines, or regular preventative dental services.
I remember a school-based dentistry program being introduced to our elementary school. Excitement filled me as I waited for my turn. When I got in the chair, the professional told me I had cavities and I couldn’t get sealants. I sat and waited in the gymnasium to return to class while I watched my classmates get their sealants. It was shameful. I hid the report. I never showed my mother. My first toothache. The pain. My first extraction. Visiting dental offices only for emergencies was recurrent throughout my childhood years. Nevertheless, She Smiled.
With getting my baby teeth pulled early, my teeth came in crooked. My canines, you know the teeth affectionately called fangs, were the first teeth you’d notice on me. I was taught through my social experiences to smile timidly and less often. I was a silly kid-always laughing. I had to be funny and outgoing, if not, people would stare at my hair or make fun of my teeth. When you smile as often as I do, people can’t help but notice teeth.
Stephan, the next-door neighbor, was the first to call me squirrel tooth and not the last. I never let anyone know it bothered me, but it did. I stayed social, outgoing, and gregarious, but I kept my hand over my mouth when I laughed. Nevertheless, She Smiled.
It was just a normal day in Detroit. I sat in my hooptie at a red light, sunglasses on, playing feel good tunes. Delano honked his horn at me multiple times before finally grabbing my attention. He motioned for me to roll down my window, and I did. With
admiration in his eyes, he said, ‘You have a beautiful smile.’ That was the first
time I had ever heard those words. I found myself wondering, is he teasing me… doesn’t he see this squirrel tooth?
After making the decision to make my mark on the world through
dentistry, I was accepted to a national travel program for dental hygienists and
relocated from Detroit, MI to Silver Spring, MD. Eventually I planted roots and found what I thought was love. With every effort to maintain my identity as a Detroit girl, my ex wanted to erase all traces of who I once was. He would often complain about my love for selfies and picture taking and discouraged me from being outgoing. When he and I met, he offered to pay for my hair appointments and did so regularly. At the time, I wore a short pixie cut with golden blonde highlights. His first request was, ‘can you grow the color out, I’d love to see you with all black hair.’ This was not his last request when it came to my hair. Next came, ‘can you grow your hair out, I’d love to see you with a ponytail.’ Quila told me that I’d never have a ponytail again, remember? Burn.
Needless to say, I outgrew the insecurities and I outgrew him.
After the cut. Stress. A failing/toxic relationship. Graduate school. Family life.
Professional obligations. Expectations. My hair started to thin drastically in a
very noticeable spot. I had no choice but to cut my hair into a style that masked
the damage and refrain from using relaxers if there was any hope in saving the
follicles that remain. I was nervous on how the world would see me. My world
would be ok, but what about the dental world? I felt confident in my smile, the
direction of my career, and felt it was time to brand myself as a professional. I had my first photoshoot ever with my new natural haircut. Moment of truth – FACEBOOK POST. For the first time, people complimented my natural, unrelaxed/unstraightened hair. Really? “Seriously, you like my hair- you have no idea the struggles I’ve had” is what my ego screamed. Gratitude told me to accept the compliments and enjoy the beauty of others as the reflection of what you see in yourself. The one person I wish could see my hair and smile, is my mother… she passed 19 years ago. I really wish that she could see my smile.
After ortho. Now that I’m on my 33rd level (33 years old), I look back and can’t
help but realize how bold I was as a kid and many of the things I endured would
be the building blocks of my self-confidence. The things I was most insecure
about are now the things I love the most about myself. It took me a few decades
to learn that the magic is never on you, it’s in you. The magic has been in me all
along. It’s not my smile and it’s not my hair. The more I learn who I am, I’m
realizing Who’s I Am. Appearance is important, but it shouldn’t determine how
you truly see someone nor should it influence how you treat a person.
My worth is also not associated with what’s on me… it’s what’s in me. I was made
specifically for this. I was being prepared long ago on how to persist and look
inwards while others look outward.
Psalms 139:14 I am fearfully and wonderfully made
When I look back, I realize that I had been relying on another person’s
interpretation of me as validation of who I am. For decades, I uncomfortably
swapped authenticity for insecurity. I lived my life for others, trying to live up to
what they thought I should be. Never again.
Galatians 1:10 I’m not trying to win the approval of people, pleasing God is the
I smile because I feel so free and unrestricted. I smile because I understand my
purpose. I feel so pure. I am in a place where I live without expectation from
myself or others. It’s nice to just be… I don’t demand perfection of myself or
others. I’m here for real connections, real people, real experiences, real
emotions, and real smiles. I’m here for all of it.
Nevertheless, She Smiled
Proverbs 31:25 – ‘She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without
fear of the future.’
What’s next? On this journey to the most authentic and purest version of myself,
I trust the process and I trust the plans God has for me. I must constantly remind
myself that nothing happens to me and everything happens for me. I am open
and ready to receive. I smile because I am full enough to give and empty enough
to receive. My smile is representative of my persistence.
I trust the process; God’s timing is perfect.
Cue the Alicia Keys’ song ‘Wait till you see my smile’
Nevertheless, she persisted.
Shop Smile for Humanity styles, which directly support Hygienists for Humanity – Alicia’s non-profit that connects communities experiencing homelessness with quality oral care products. Want to connect further with Alicia? Learn more about her non-profit at hygienistsforhumanity.org or connect with her through Instagram @hygienistsforhumanity @aliciamurriardh
Click HERE to listen to Alicia’s theme song, “Wait till you see my smile”, in the Nevertheless She Smiled playlist.