Smile Miami Campaign Captures Pearly Whites on Camera
12th Sep 2009 Miami Herald
By Sri Sri: South Floridians may have their woes, but that doesn't keep them from smiling. Now FIU students and volunteers armed with cameras have taken it upon themselves to find those pearly whites -- and record them for posterity. There are days when the simple act of smiling takes more effort than we can muster.
Two overseas wars. Double-digit employment. Widespread home foreclosures. Pay cuts. Daily thunderstorms. That's a lot to frown about. But what if someone asked you to smile for the camera, and even wore a happy-face sign on their chest as they asked you to do it? Would you smile then? Would that spur-of-the-moment smile make you feel better? Yes and yes -- according to the folks behind the Smile Miami campaign.
``Sometimes, even if they don't want to participate with us taking their picture, they're smiling when they tell us no,'' said Amanda Williams, a Smile Miami volunteer. ``So it still counts. Maybe we don't capture it, but they're still participating.'' The Smile Miami campaign is essentially a collection of yoga enthusiasts -- some of them volunteers with the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation, some of them Florida International University students.
They've combed South Beach, downtown Miami, Coconut Grove and the main FIU campus, looking for anyone willing to stop for a few seconds -- and show off their pearly whites. In the past few weeks, more than 1,000 South Floridians have agreed to have their smile photographed, with the pictures now being uploaded to an online album, viewable at http://takeabreathmiami.org/smile-miami. Miami's smile campaign, which concludes Sunday, follows similar efforts launched this year in other cities -- first Washington, then Chicago, Seattle and several others.
The idea is to impress upon the public, especially in these trying times, ``the value of their smiles.'' Americans, by and large, are both angry and stressed by the sour economy. The most-recent national stress survey by the American Psychological Association found 60 percent of respondents were angry and irritable, and 80 percent were stressed about their personal finances and the economy. Among them: Miami businessman Marcelo Sequeira. Business at his consulting firm is down about 50 percent this year, but he does his best to stay positive.
``Football season is starting, I'm excited about that,'' he said, smiling naturally into the camera. Demetrius Dunn of Fort Lauderdale felt a bit of a boost after his on-camera smile. ``It's like a delayed, gradual effect,'' Dunn, 49, said. ``I think that reminded me to smile. Things are not as bad as they could be.'' The former Broward County bus driver left his job a few years ago to start a business. When that venture fizzled, Dunn couldn't get his old job back because of a hiring freeze. Since then, Dunn has struggled to pay for basic necessities. He was in downtown Miami Friday to drop off a child-support payment for his children.
``I borrowed the money from my brother,'' Dunn said. Though smiling for the camera cheered him up somewhat, Dunn said the bigger stress relief came from simply talking about his problems. Not everyone who smiles feels uplifted, of course. Mike Batman, whose downtown Miami jewelry store is hurting for customers, said he only smiled because the volunteer who approached him was ``cute.'' ``I make money, I'm happy,'' he said.
``Only money makes me feel better.'' Over time, stress can deteriorate the body, damaging both the immune and cardiovascular systems, said Dr. Eugenio Rothe, professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at FIU. The smile crusade has its limitations, Rothe said, as smiles only really relieve stress when they are sincere, and part of an overall sense of well-being. ``The problem with these trendy things, that `smiling is going to make you feel better,' it's an oversimplification,'' Rothe said. ``Life is a lot more complicated than that, and the brain is a lot more complicated than that.''
Johann Knoepffler, a 21-year-old FIU finance major who has photographed dozens of people during the smile campaign, agrees with the doctor on one point: The best smiles are those that are genuine. ``How much you really feel it'' is what matters, Knoepffler said. ``You could have some slightly crooked teeth, your teeth might be a little yellow.''
Or, in the case of 72-year-old Nora Fernandez, you could have no teeth at all. Fernandez, who is battling mouth cancer, flashed her gums for the Smile Miami folks, saying she has plenty to smile about: ``I'm grateful to God that I'm alive.''
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