Concerns about smiles have overshadowed the last two Olympic games. In Sochi, there were concerns that stoic Russians would be unable to give welcoming smiles to international visitors. And in London, concerns were raised about the oral health of the athletes and whether it might impact their ability to compete.
But in Rio, there are no such concerns being raised, as Brazil’s smile is front and center for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Smiles, Sustainability, and Gambiarra
According to the executive producer of the opening ceremony in Rio, the ceremony was built on three basic pillars: smiles, sustainability, and gambiarra, the Brazilian art of improvised repairs.
Executive producer Marco Balich said that “Smile is the approach the Brazilians have toward life.” In other words, the approach is to face adversity and difficult circumstances joyfully. The ceremony offered plenty so mile at, including the Gisele Bundchen-led freeform dance party, which encouraged everyone in the stadium to just get up and move.
Sustainability came to the forefront at several points in the ceremony, especially when some of Brazil’s tiniest natives–insects, including cockroaches–grew large and took center stage for their own dance. The puppeteered insects performed a slow, emotional number.
Finally, the art of gambiarra became prominent through the remarkably athletic number featuring acrobats jumping across an irregular plane of rising buildings, creating a jumble of awkward shapes reminiscent of Rio’s shantytowns.
It’s important to remember that the Olympics aren’t just an athletic competition, they’re also a diplomatic meeting. By bringing together people from around the world for such a wide range of events, the Olympics is a rare opportunity for people to contact one another separate from the pressures and propaganda imposed on them by their home countries. Even though there may be language and other barriers that still keep people apart, a smile has the ability to reach across international boundaries to establish bonds of friendship and goodwill.
In particular, people are impacted by the outgoing nature of North Korea’s athletes, who are typically isolated by their country’s government. It was a smile from a North Korean athlete that impressed Hong Kong fencer Vivian Kong with the Olympic spirit.
She had been stressed out about the competition when she made eye contact with the athlete, and he smiled at her. That’s when she realized that the Olympics are about bringing people together and shows how similar we all are, despite the barriers of language, culture, and distance.
And it seems that the North Korean athletes are allowed — if not encouraged — to engage in this kind of smile diplomacy. There has been some speculation that North Korean gymnast Hong Un-jong might face punishment for posing in a selfie with a South Korean gymnast. But in truth this kind of sports diplomacy is one of the few avenues of diplomatic access left to the isolated country, so what might otherwise be considered fraternising with the enemy might be seen as “war by other means,” and scored as a victory, especially if she continues to perform well.
Although our smiles may have “accents,” they are still universally understood and appreciated.
Medals, Smiling, and Performance
But the pageantry and diplomacy are mere backdrops to the athletic competition, and the thrill of victory that winners display, epitomized by their smiles on the podium as they are recognized for their achievement.
However, there is some question about whether these smiles are simple expressions of happiness. Research looking at when and how gold medal winners smile showed that smiling isn’t primarily about happiness. Instead, it’s about interacting with others. They came to this conclusion by looking at the behavior of 22 Olympic gold medalists. Their appearance was rated as happy throughout the awards ceremony, however the athletes only smiled during the phase when they are supposed to interact with others, not when they are enjoying their victory in a personal moment. This highlights that our smiles are not purely for ourselves, but are primarily intended for others–a smile is meant to be seen, it’s an intensely personal communication that represents more than just emotion. It represents our desire to find commonality with other humans through an expression of our joy.
Is Your Smile Ready to Be Your Ambassador
Whether you are competing on an international stage or just going shopping in Philadelphia, your smile is your ambassador. It represents you to everyone who sees it, and they will judge you on the basis of what your smile conveys, including your health, intelligence, honesty, and more.
If you don’t feel that your smile is ready to perform that role, you might want to consider a smile makeover at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell. Please call (610) 272-0828 today for an appointment with cosmetic dentist Dr. Ken Siegel.