Can you imagine how much it would hurt if thousands of people were mocking you online? Well, for one woman in St. Louis, it was her reality. A photo of her smile went viral, and she subsequently became a victim of cyber-bullying, with people making insulting comments about her appearance.
Jessica McDaniels, 32, is a hairstylist who has crooked teeth and a conspicuous overbite. This has attracted the attention of bullies ever since high school, and she has always dreamed of being able to fix her dental problems. However, she has never been able to afford the expensive procedures and aftercare required.
One day in May 2017 McDaniels looked on as her friend’s partner made an engagement proposal. Someone decided to capture the big moment for posterity and subsequently posted the photo, which showed McDaniels standing in the background, on Facebook. But one commenter chose to ignore the happy couple and instead made unpleasant comments about McDaniels’ misshapen teeth.
The post then went viral, opening the floodgates to a torrent of further insults. As a result, McDaniels even apologized to the newly engaged couple for what had happened, despite the fact that she clearly wasn’t to blame. She was nonetheless concerned that the cyber-bullying might have overshadowed their special day.
A report by KSDK News subsequently showed McDaniels’ heart-breaking reaction to the abusive comments. She was in tears, with her hands covering her face. But she still had the strength not to allow the bullies to break her spirit. “I love myself, I love myself,” she said. “That’s it.”
As a mother-of-two, however, it was the comments relating to her being a parent that really upset her. One abusive poster even wrote that McDaniels shouldn’t have children because of her teeth. “I didn’t care about them talking about me,” she said. “I just wanted to protect my kids.”
These disgusting posts were shared thousands of times, but thankfully plenty of people were appalled by the abusive comments. Indeed, McDaniels was grateful for the friends and members of her community who showed their support for her. “They don’t judge me,” she said. “They don’t know me about my teeth, they know my heart, my personality.”
Because of McDaniels’ devastating ordeal, her classmate Krystal Starks set up a GoFundMe page to finance dental treatment for McDaniels. “Jessica has struggled with this issue and has been teased for most of life about her teeth,” Starks’ post read. “Instead of criticizing and tearing Jessica down, let’s support her dream of making her smile perfect.” And, amazingly, it raised almost $10,000.
McDaniels’ issues with her smile started when her adult teeth grew between the ages of 11 and 12. However, dentists were unable to provide any explanation for the positioning of her teeth. As the years went on, her overbite became even more pronounced, and consequently she often posed for the camera with her mouth closed.
When she walked down the hallway at school, in fact, people would point and make horse sounds. Now aged 32, McDaniels had learned to live with her condition. Nonetheless, after the engagement photo was posted, it was shocking to see the number of adults who ridiculed her about something she had no control over.
By the time that McDaniels finally saw the Facebook post, it already had a soul-destroying 1,500 comments. But she didn’t let it break her. Indeed, she lives by the motto, “When they go low, you go high.” She believes that everyone has their flaws and hers just happen to relate to her teeth.
She remains very close to her mother, Pat McGee. They talk on a daily basis, in fact, but McDaniels never once confided in her about the bullying that she’d been subjected to since high school. A month after the photo went viral, though, she told her mother for the first time about all the emotional abuse that she’d had to endure.
McGee was initially confused by the situation. She didn’t know much about the internet, so when her daughter said that a post showing her teeth had gone viral, McGee responded, “Virus? Who has a virus?” After McDaniels had explained the online taunts in more detail, though, her mom said, “Be strong. God has your back.”
And fortune was at last on McDaniels’ side when one generous oral surgeon saw her story online. Dr. Maryann Udy, of Northwest Oral Maxillo-Facial Surgeons, contacted McDaniels and volunteered to give her the perfect smile that she deserves. And the expenses would no longer be an issue because she wouldn’t be charged a cent.
She accepted the generous offer, although she remained adamant that her confidence wasn’t dependent on how her teeth looked. “I’m cute with this smile,” she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pointing at her crooked teeth. “And I’m going to be cute with the new smile.”
After agreeing to undergo the operation, McDaniels and the kind surgeon discussed what exactly the procedures would entail. And on the day of the surgery, McDaniels brought along plenty of friends and family for support. They were all excited at the prospect of seeing her new smile, of course.
The operation was a success and after taking a few days to recover, McDaniels looked amazing. Her smile is now straight and white – and she has good reason to smile thanks to the kindness of strangers. “I looked good before,” she said. “I look even better now.”
And since the dental treatment was free, Dr. Udy suggested that McDaniels use the money raised via the GoFundMe page to take her sons to Disney. So far, McDaniels has just used the cash to settle outstanding bills, although she says that she’ll consider going to Disney with her kids at Christmas.
After all the attention that she’s received, McDaniels says that she wants to create a non-profit organisation to help other people who are suffering in the way that she did. She hopes to name it Smile With Me. “I’m just so happy and I want to make others happy too,” she said. “I feel like the spotlight is on me so why not give it to someone else?”
Her eldest son told her that there was nothing wrong with her smile before the operation. And McDaniels agrees with him, although she’s incredibly grateful for all the help that she’s received. While this story had a beautiful ending, though, remember that not everyone is as strong as her – so please think before you post.