'I had my teeth fixed, aged 36, in the hope it would boost my confidence and career'

·5-min read
Kayleigh Fazan recently had a set of crowns put on her teeth 
Kayleigh Fazan recently had a set of crowns put on her teeth

"You need to get your teeth sorted out, love." Those words, spoken nearly twenty years ago by a customer in the Debenhams store where I was working, are still clear as day in my head. I was only eighteen at the time, a delicate age when you’re still growing in confidence, so that comment felt earth-shattering. It also left me worried about the future of my career in retail, an industry which is based on providing smiley customer service. Now, at 36, I’ve had two procedures on my teeth in a bid to further my career.

In my teenage years, my teeth became very overcrowded; it looked like there was a war going on in my mouth. I was insecure about them and I knew I needed to see a dentist, but fear was holding me back. I had a bad experience having fillings when I was 11, so the thought of seeing a dentist again was terrifying. The more I delayed the visit, the more my confidence suffered. I met my husband when I was 22, while working in the Diesel store in Manchester. Like any other young couple, we spent our evenings going out to bars and nightclubs, but I never felt confident. I even learnt a special smiling technique for when the camera came out, that involved stretching my mouth as wide as I could so my teeth looked less crowded. But if someone caught me off guard, I looked horrendous. My husband was always supportive, though. He would say: "This is who you are. If you’re happy, I’m happy." But, deep down, I wasn’t.

Kayleigh Fazan before she had any orthodontic work 
Kayleigh Fazan before she had any orthodontic work

I’ve always been ambitious, and in my late twenties my career started to take off. I was getting more visibility, and the company I was working for put a picture of me on the Intranet to celebrate some recent success I had with a client. But, instead of being delighted, my first thought was: "My teeth look terrible." When I was 27, I was headhunted to work in Kuwait in the Middle East, as an area manager for a brand. It was an amazing position that I couldn’t turn down. I knew then that I had to choose between fixing my teeth, or becoming invisible in my career.

I plucked up the courage to go to the orthodontist a few months after. I had four tooth extractions, and my husband’s Aunt held my hand the whole way through the operation. Afterwards, I wore wire braces for two years. When I got them removed, my business director said: "Wow Kayleigh, you look like a new person." It may sound superficial, but I felt like one. I’ve always been a happy person and, for the first time in my life, I could smile without feeling self conscious.

I got offered another promotion in the Netherlands in 2019. Although it meant relocating my husband and son, who was one at the time, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. But 15 months into the job, I was made redundant as a result of the pandemic. It was devastating: I had gone from being the breadwinner of the family with a six-figure salary to sitting at home with nothing to do. To pass the time, I started helping people on LinkedIn with their job applications. A few weeks later, a man offered to pay me, in exchange for help with his CV. My client base quickly grew and I set up my own business, The International Retail Academy, which offers services to retail professionals and businesses.

Kayleigh Fazan in her twenties, with a fixed brace
Kayleigh Fazan in her twenties, with a fixed brace

The job involves posting a lot of tutorial videos on LinkedIn. But when I watched them back, I felt a niggling feeling return: my teeth had moved since I had my braces off, and were starting to overlap again. It wasn’t overly noticeable, but it bought all the insecurities from my teenage years flooding back. It’s a sad, and unspoken, fact that retail has a dark side to it. The type of women who thrive in my industry tend to look a certain way. A company I used to work for once told me not to hire someone because they were fat. I couldn't shake the feeling that a crooked smile was stopping me from achieving my full potential.

We booked to go on holiday to Turkey in July this year, so I started looking into having my teeth fixed there. I had heard the horror stories of people having botched dental treatment abroad, so I spent endless hours researching the best clinics. On July 5th, which happened to be my birthday, I started treatment to have a full set of crowns. They shaved down my teeth until they looked like small pegs, before fitting the caps. When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It felt like I was finally seeing the best version of me. I paid two thousand euros for the procedure, which would have set me back around eight thousand pounds if I had it in the UK.

Two weeks later, I’m worlds apart from that shy eighteen year old girl who hid her teeth on the Debenhams shop floor. They say a smile goes a long way, but I would argue that a perfect set of teeth goes further.

As told to Alice Hall

You can find out more about the International Retail Academy here

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