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 toothpick 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 gap-toothed model Lauren Hutton in the pages of her favorite fashion magazines that she realized her smile was not only unusual 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. Gap-toothed models were all over the runways at this season's Paris Fashion Week. Instead of fixing their teeth, some of Hollywood's freshest faces, including 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 to the Middle Ages, when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in "The Canterbury Tales" of the gap-toothed 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."
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Famous gap-toothed women
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• Anna Paquin
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• Georgia Jagger
• Elisabeth Moss
• Laura San Giacomo
• Natalie Cole
• Vanessa Paradis
• Jorja Fox