When you need an accurate reading on just how much times have changed, you need not look any further than the mouth of babes.
More specifically, the mouth of teens. Because as Oddity Central reports, adolescents across Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have co-opted braces – those metal harbingers of social doom – to be their latest fashion trend.
While many teens, at least in the West, recall the day they had their headgear removed as one of the pivotal moments of their youth, young people in southeast Asia are flocking to buy fake metal-and-rubber mouth accessories for as low as $100 a pop.
These fake braces come in a virtual rainbow of colours or designs (Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse are two popular choices) and can be inserted by any esthetician offering the service. Teens with good hand-eye coordination are even installing them on themselves. No doctor’s note required.
As CBS reports, these cheap knockoffs are laden with potential health hazards.
"Some people put the fashion (braces) on by themselves, which is dangerous because they could come loose and slip into the throat," Rasamee Vistaveth, secretary-general of Thailand’s Consumer Protection Board, tells the news network back in 2009.
“The fake braces, which are glued onto the teeth, can also cause sores on the gums and inside the mouth and some of the wires have been found to contain lead.”
Studies also show that the cheap metal used in the fake braces contained lead.
Vice UK notes that fake braces were blamed in the death of two teens.
To combat these growing concerns, the government cracked down on the fake braces industry, imposing fines on people caught in the braces trade and even imprisoning importers for up to a year.
Vistaveth said she hoped the strict measures would speed up the trend’s demise, which she already saw as having “peaked.”
That was three years ago. And the trend has showed no signs of slowing down.
The fake braces have been reflected in popular culture. Across the fashion magazine spectrum, models now sport metallic grins.
Local celebrities have bucked the trend as well, with Indonesian star Andika Kangen rocking a pair of pink-and-green railroad tracks to the soundtrack of a million swooning fans.
Photos of Gwen Stefani in her orthodontic heyday dominate the numerous blogs dedicated to fashion braces that have sprung up across the region.
As with many bizarre beauty trends, there’s a socioeconomic factor beneath the surface.
The article notes that braces are seen as a status symbol of affluence. To pop on a real pair in Bangkok, it would cost up to $1,200 – a sum that would be difficult for the average family to shoulder.
Like the North American equivalent of orange fake tans, these teens appear to be holding fast to their beloved yet unconventional (and arguably dangerous) idea of beauty.