Much like her shiny hair and warm eyes, the space between Geneva Aguirre's front teeth has always been a part of her look. When she was little, Aguirre used to stick a flavored tooth pick in the gap - just because it would fit and no one else could do it. It made her unique.
It wasn't until Aguirre noticed iconic gaptoothed model Lauren Hutton in the pages of her favorite fashion magazines that she realized her smile was not only unique, but maybe even beautiful.
"I guess I've always thought of it as a cool thing," says Aguirre, 48, of Concord, Calif.
These days, so does the beauty industry. Gaptoothed models were all over the runways at this season's Paris Fashion Week. Instead of fixing their teeth, some of Hollywood's freshest faces, like Anna Paquin and Elizabeth Moss, proudly sport a midline diastema, the dental term for the gap. And, last month, on "America's Next Top Model," host Tyra Banks sent a 22-year-old contestant from Boise, Idaho, to the dentist to widen her gap. The beauty blogosphere has been buzzing ever since.
Men sport the gap, too, but culturally, there has always been a mystique about diastematic women. In Ghana, Namibia, and Nigeria, a gap in women's teeth is a sign of beauty and fertility, says Bernice Agyekwena, a Ghanaian journalist and Gates Fellow of African Agriculture at the University of California Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
"Some women even go to the extent of creating an artificial gap in their teeth because they want to meet the traditional standards set for African beauty," she says.
In the Western world, our fascination dates back to the Middle Ages, when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in "The Canterbury Tales" of the gaptoothed wife of Bath and her lustful ways.
But, experts believe our new interest in the diastema represents a backlash against unattainable beauty standards and an obsession with perfection.
"I think for so long the look was cookie-cutter beauty, and it doesn't stand out," says Heather Muir, beauty news editor for Allure magazine in New York. "We're shifting to a more quirky beauty, and I think that includes women who have very fair skin, many freckles, or frizzy, big hair."
Two gaptoothed models in particular, Jac Jagaciak and Lindsey Wixson, caught Allure magazine editors' eyes last week on the Paris runways, Muir says. She also calls attention to recent ads by Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and Miu Miu. All feature models with gaps between their teeth.
"This could be a confidence booster to a lot of girls out there who are 12 or 13 and mortified because they have a gap," she says. "Now's the time to let whatever is interesting about your look shine through. Embrace it."
For the most part, dentists agree. "From a clinical standpoint, there's no advantage to closing it," says Tim Patel, a Walnut Creek, Calif., dentist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California-San Francisco's School of Dentistry. If the gap is small, Patel may suggest fixing it to avoid periodontal issues down the line. Food can get stuck in there, after all.
Otherwise, he's OK with it. "Obviously, I like to see perfectly straight teeth with no diastema," he says. "But if patients like it, I certainly don't try to encourage them to change it. By and large, it's an aesthetic issue."
Sylvia Lan of Santa Clara, Calif., has always embraced her diastema. So have the lovestruck men who mention it before asking her out.
"They seem to think it's sexy," says Lan, a fortysomething who works in sales. "Go figure. Instead of looking at my chest, they're looking at my teeth."
Recently, at a wedding in Hollister, Calif., she was surprised when a woman with her teenage daughter in tow approached Lan to point it out.
"Look," the woman said, "She's beautiful, and she has a gap!"
Lan reassured the girl, who was self-conscious about hers. "I told her a healthy white smile is more important," Lan says. "As long as she could not drive a Mack truck through it then she'd be fine. And that the boys love it."
Les Blank sure did. His interest in gaptoothed women began in the eighth grade, with a smiling beauty he admired from a distance. In 1987, the El Cerrito, Calif., director made "Gap-ToothedWomen," a documentary homage to gaptoothed women living in the Bay Area. Hutton is also in the film.
"They have an attractive, outgoing personality that's warm and vital," says Blank, who interviewed 100 women for the film. "The whole world is so full of artifice that I think people just want to see something natural and real."
Famous gaptoothed women
Model Jessica Hart
Laura San Giacomo