I never realized how crooked my smile can be, or that I have a tendency to talk more out of one side of my mouth than the other — until a very well-meaning meteorologist turned a video of me promoting tomorrow’s headlines into still photos and emailed them back to me.

Stan Sweet hadn’t heard about an unwritten rule I made for me. I tried diligently not to watch myself on the nightly newscast clips dedicated to promoting tomorrow’s top stories.

A few months into the endeavor, I had seen more than my share of the pieces as I was learning to talk to the camera, instead of the man standing behind it, and worked on ways to become more conversational.

I soon noticed that when I watched the clips, I didn’t pay any attention to what I was actually saying.

All I looked for were the hairs out of place, the powder that didn’t dim the shine on my cheeks and the shade of lipstick I painstakingly applied before every shot.

Plus, since the segments were usually videotaped, there was always a chance I would have left the office and headed out on some other chore by the time the promotions aired.

It’s a little disturbing to turn the corner in the electronics department of the local superstore and come face to face with yourself — usually the up-close-and-personal, big-screen version of the image that normally only stares back through bathroom mirrors.

Receiving the still images, which came attached with a tremendously gracious and encouraging note about the success of the joint newspaper-TV project, sent me into yet another round of self-analysis, and prompted more than a few sessions in which I really did stand in front of a mirror and talk to myself, all the while, analyzing the alignment of my face.

Eventually, I realized that as long as I dissected pieces of my expression, there would always be something wrong. My mouth would be crooked; lipstick wouldn’t look right, my teeth would always need to be one shade whiter, and that bump in my nose, it just never goes away.

But, when I stepped back and watched me as a whole, everything fit together, because it all fit me.

Now, if a few pictures of my face from a friend did this to me, imagine what a session trying on clothes, locked inside a four-foot square dressing room stall surrounded by three-way mirrors could do to any woman.

Between the fluorescent lights that catch every characteristic in exactly the wrong way, the mirrors that spotlight flaws like a headlight on a dark midnight and the insecurities all of us carry about our imperfections, it’s a wonder we ever make a dash for the dressing rooms anywhere.

While we all instinctively know how hard we are on ourselves, a Fitness magazine poll recently highlighted just how critical women can be. What it found was that dressing room curtains often hide us cowering behind unrealistic expectations.

Out of 1,001 women who took part in the survey, 88 percent reported a trip to the clothing store made them re-evaluate their appearance and hone in on flaws. As a result, 64 percent say shopping for clothes is bad for their self-confidence.

Results like these, which we know consistently hit girls at younger and younger ages and stick with us forever, have prompted companies like Dove to remind women what real beauty is all about.

The Campaign for Real Beauty and Self-Esteem Fund, according to the Dove website was designed to free today’s women and the next generation from perfect beauty stereotypes, thus making us all more comfortable in our own skin.

Shortly after kicking off the campaign that began in 2004 and grew to include real women in the promotion, rather than models, Dove’s global beauty survey found that only 2 percent of women worldwide would describe themselves as beautiful. Plus, 91 percent of women 50-64 said it’s time for society to change its views about women and aging — finally accepting that aging is natural — lines, wrinkles, gray hair and all.

But, while women trying on clothes and companies like Dove may know what it’s like to buckle under the pressure to be perfect and try to change the view from magazines and billboards, Hollywood may not follow suit.

Tuning into one of summer’s hottest shows recently, I got so confused that I probably deepened my own frown lines. While each character had a very specific plot and her very own drama lurking around every commercial break, the actresses who played them looked so much alike that I couldn’t tell the hockey player’s overly-willing date from the soccer mom or the psychotic schemer.

As I watched, my understanding of the story getting blurrier with every blond hair extension, perfect pout and false lash that peered back behind the screen’s glass, I caught myself searching for crooked grins, freckles, hairstyle parts that weren’t precisely centered or any other unique characteristic, just to figure out which girl went where.

Much like the realization that hit as I gave myself lectures in the mirror, it occurred to me that we’re not supposed to be perfect, because perfect is impossible, boring and sometimes even confusing. In the words of a Natasha Bedingfield song, “Freckles,” it’s those little imperfections that make us beautiful, valuable, lovable and reflect our hearts.

Like a lot of the clothes we try on behind those dressing room doors, it just doesn’t fit that well in real life.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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