We have sometimes talked about how Americans learned to smile in the 20th century, but what we didn’t really know is how much smiling increased over the course of the 20th century. Now a new study looking at yearbook pictures shows that we are not only comfortable with smiling today, we smile much larger than ever before.
Aggregate Portraits over Time
The study conducted by researchers at the University of California Berkeley and Brown University used nearly 155,000 high school yearbook pictures from 1905 to 2013, taken from 128 schools in 27 states. But after they removed all non-frontal facing pictures, they had only about 38,000 pictures from 115 high schools in 26 states. About half of the pictures come from the 100 largest cities in the US, with the rest coming from smaller communities.
They then took these forward-facing pictures and created composite images of yearbook photos for each year. They measured the curvature of the lips in these composite images and found that the curvature in smiles has increased significantly since 1905. In 1905, women’s lips curved by only 1.2 degrees, and men’s lips actually curved downward in a slight frown of -0.5 degrees. But by 1950, women’s lips were curving by over 11 degrees, and men’s by nearly 9 degrees. By 2005, smiles had increased even more to 13.5 degrees for women and 9.5 degrees for men. Certainly, with the expectation of smiling so broadly, a new smile is definitely a better graduation gift than ever!
Today Large Smiles Are the Norm
The data from this study shows that smiles have not only become more common with time, they’ve become larger. These days it’s considered abnormal to make a small smile with closed lips. Instead, people are encouraged to make large smiles that show more teeth.
While it used to be possible to conceal unattractive teeth with a half-smile, these days such half-smiles might be read as negative emotional responses, and getting a person labeled as difficult, standoffish, or angry. It can impair both personal and professional relationships.
If you are unhappy with the appearance of your smile, don’t hide it in a damaging way. Instead, cosmetic dentistry techniques like porcelain veneers can help you get a smile that you will love to share.