How OITNB’s Uzo Aduba Learned to Love Her Smile

“Straight-up ugly.” That’s how Uzo Aduba, aka Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Orange is the New Black, used to describe the gap in her teeth. In a recent essay for Cosmopolitan, Aduba reflected on her trademark smile, and the struggle she once faced to accept it. “When I was little, I didn’t smile much,” she wrote. “Family photos from those years show a sea of closed-mouth smiles.”

As a kid, it’s especially difficult when you feel like you don’t fit in, and Aduba felt like the odd gal out with the only tooth gap in a sea of gap-free teeth. She even begged her mother for braces, but because her mom is awesome, she told Aduba that she was already beautiful.

Her mother sat her down and explained that her tooth gap was a celebrated ancestral trait and an important part of her family history. In the Nigerian village where her family originated, that very gap was considered a sign of intelligence and beauty.

As it happens, it took more than just her mom saying she was beautiful to convince the now famous actress to embrace her uniqueness. During her senior class photo, the school photographer asked Aduba why she wouldn’t smile with her mouth open and she said she hated the way it looked. He told her he thought her smile was beautiful.

“I’ll never forget that moment,” wrote Aduba. “It’s amazing how years of hearing the same response from family and friends constantly had fallen on deaf ears. But right then, I heard it and felt beautiful. A professional photographer with a fancy camera had complimented me on my smile. Gap and all.”

We all understand how you can hear something a million times from your family and friends, but it doesn’t register or we too easily disregard whatever they’ve said. Yet when a stranger tells you the oh-so-obvious thing—that you’re great the way you are—suddenly it all makes sense.

Years later, Aduba’s smile became an asset to her career. Though she used to wear a mouthpiece to cover up the gap on auditions, she forgot it one day and landed her first major role. Now, as OITNB’s “Crazy Eyes,” she’s come to some serious conclusions about her self-image.

“I see the irony of playing a character famous for an unusual physical characteristic, but it’s an important daily reminder of how far I’ve come,” Aduba wrote. “She is perfectly imperfect. She owns who she is and is unapologetic.”

Being a little different certainly didn’t hold her back, and it didn’t hold back these celebrities either. Here are some other famous members of the gap-toothed club. Braces can suck it!

Anna Paquin

Vanessa Paradis

Lauren Hutton

Elijah Wood

The next time you feel bad about your distinctive features, remember they’re what make you so unforgettably you. By embracing every bit of yourself, your confidence will shine through in your personality. And don’t forget that when mom tells you you’re beautiful, she’s always right.

Images via Paper Magazine, thechive, people, fuschiatriangle, tumblr

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